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, July 21, 2007

Frank Rich - I Did Have Sexual Relations With That Woman

I Did Have Sexual Relations With That Woman

By FRANK RICH

IT’S not just the resurgence of Al Qaeda that is taking us back full circle to the fateful first summer of the Bush presidency. It’s the hot sweat emanating from Washington. Once again the capital is titillated by a scandal featuring a member of Congress, a woman who is not his wife and a rumor of crime. Gary Condit, the former Democratic congressman from California, has passed the torch of below-the-Beltway sleaziness to David Vitter, an incumbent (as of Friday) Republican senator from Louisiana.

Mr. Vitter briefly faced the press to explain his “very serious sin,” accompanied by a wife who might double for the former Mrs. Jim McGreevey. He had no choice once snoops hired by the avenging pornographer Larry Flynt unearthed his number in the voluminous phone records of the so-called D.C. Madam, now the subject of a still-young criminal investigation. Newspapers back home also linked the senator to a defunct New Orleans brothel, a charge Mr. Vitter denies. That brothel’s former madam, while insisting he had been a client, was one of his few defenders last week. “Just because people visit a whorehouse doesn’t make them a bad person,” she helpfully told the Baton Rouge paper, The Advocate.

Mr. Vitter is not known for being so forgiving a soul when it comes to others’ transgressions. Even more than Mr. Condit, who once co-sponsored a bill calling for the display of the Ten Commandments in public buildings, Mr. Vitter is a holier-than-thou family-values panderer. He recruited his preteen children for speaking roles in his campaign ads and, terrorism notwithstanding, declared that there is no “more important” issue facing America than altering the Constitution to defend marriage.

But hypocrisy is a hardy bipartisan perennial on Capitol Hill, and hardly news. This scandal may leave a more enduring imprint. It comes with a momentous pedigree. Mr. Vitter first went to Washington as a young congressman in 1999, to replace Robert Livingston, the Republican leader who had been anointed to succeed Newt Gingrich as speaker of the House. Mr. Livingston’s seat had abruptly become vacant after none other than Mr. Flynt outed him for committing adultery. Since we now know that Mr. Gingrich was also practicing infidelity back then — while leading the Clinton impeachment crusade, no less — the Vitter scandal can be seen as the culmination of an inexorable sea change in his party.

And it is President Bush who will be left holding the bag in history. As the new National Intelligence Estimate confirms the failure of the war against Al Qaeda and each day of quagmire signals the failure of the war in Iraq, so the case of the fallen senator from the Big Easy can stand as an epitaph for a third lost war in our 43rd president’s legacy: the war against sex.

During the 2000 campaign, Mr. Bush and his running mate made a point of promising to “set an example for our children” and to “uphold the honor and the dignity of the office.” They didn’t just mean that there would be no more extramarital sex in the White House. As a matter of public policy, abstinence was in; abortion rights, family planning and homosexuality were out. Mr. Bush’s Federal Communications Commission stood ready to punish the networks for four-letter words and wardrobe malfunctions. The surgeon general was forbidden to mention condoms or the morning-after pill.

To say that this ambitious program has fared no better than the creation of an Iraqi unity government is an understatement. The sole lasting benchmark to be met in the Bush White House’s antisex agenda was the elevation of anti-Roe judges to the federal bench. Otherwise, Sodom and Gomorrah are thrashing the Family Research Council and the Traditional Values Coalition day and night.

The one federal official caught on the D.C. Madam’s phone logs ahead of Mr. Vitter, Randall Tobias, was a Bush State Department official whose tasks had included enforcing a prostitution ban on countries receiving AIDS aid. Last month Rupert Murdoch’s Fox network succeeded in getting a federal court to throw out the F.C.C.’s “indecency” fines. Polls show unchanging majority support for abortion rights and growing support for legal recognition of same-sex unions exemplified by Mary Cheney’s.

Most amazing is the cultural makeover of Mr. Bush’s own party. The G.O.P. that began the century in the thrall of Rick Santorum, Bill Frist and George Allen has become the brand of Mark Foley and Mr. Vitter. Not a single Republican heavyweight showed up at Jerry Falwell’s funeral. Younger evangelical Christians, who may care more about protecting the environment than policing gay people, are up for political grabs.

Nowhere is this cultural revolution more visible — or more fun to watch — than in the G.O.P. campaign for the White House. Forty years late, the party establishment is finally having its own middle-aged version of the summer of love, and it’s a trip. The co-chairman of John McCain’s campaign in Florida has been charged with trying to solicit gay sex from a plainclothes police officer. Over at YouTube, viewers are flocking to a popular new mock-music video in which “Obama Girl” taunts her rival: “Giuliani Girl, you stop your fussin’/ At least Obama didn’t marry his cousin.”

As Margery Eagan, a columnist at The Boston Herald, has observed, even the front-runners’ wives are getting into the act, trying to one-up one another with displays of what she described as their “ample and aging” cleavage. The décolletage primary was kicked off early this year by the irrepressible Judith Giuliani, who posed for Harper’s Bazaar giving her husband a passionate kiss. “I’ve always liked strong, macho men,” she said. This was before we learned she had married two such men, not one, before catching the eye of America’s Mayor at Club Macanudo, an Upper East Side cigar bar, while he was still married to someone else.

Whatever the ultimate fate of Rudy Giuliani’s campaign, it is the straw that stirs the bubbling brew that is the post-Bush Republican Party. The idea that a thrice-married, pro-abortion rights, pro-gay rights candidate is holding on as front-runner is understandably driving the G.O.P.’s increasingly marginalized cultural warriors insane. Not without reason do they fear that he is in the vanguard of a new Republican age of Addams-family values and moral relativism. Once a truculent law-and-order absolutist, Mr. Giuliani has even shrugged off the cocaine charges leveled against his departed South Carolina campaign chairman, the state treasurer Thomas Ravenel, as a “highly personal” matter.

The religious right’s own favorite sons, Sam Brownback and Mike Huckabee, are no more likely to get the nomination than Ron Paul or, for that matter, RuPaul. The party’s faith-based oligarchs are getting frantic. Disregarding a warning from James Dobson of Focus on the Family, who said in March that he didn’t consider Fred Thompson a Christian, they desperately started fixating on the former Tennessee senator as their savior. When it was reported this month that Mr. Thompson had worked as a lobbyist for an abortion rights organization in the 1990s, they credulously bought his denials and his spokesman’s reassurance that “there’s no documents to prove it, no billing records.” Last week The New York Times found the billing records.

No one is stepping more boldly into this values vacuum than Mitt Romney. In contrast to Mr. Giuliani, the former Massachusetts governor has not only disowned his past as a social liberal but is also running as a paragon of moral rectitude. He is even embracing one of the more costly failed Bush sex initiatives, abstinence education, just as states are abandoning it for being ineffective. He never stops reminding voters that he is the only top-tier candidate still married to his first wife.

In a Web video strikingly reminiscent of the Vitter campaign ads, the entire multigenerational Romney brood gathers round to enact their wholesome Christmas festivities. Last week Mr. Romney unveiled a new commercial decrying American culture as “a cesspool of violence, and sex, and drugs, and indolence, and perversions.” Unlike Mr. Giuliani, you see, he gets along with his children, and unlike Mr. Thompson, he has never been in bed with the perverted Hollywood responsible for the likes of “Law & Order.”

There are those who argue Mr. Romney’s campaign is doomed because he is a Mormon, a religion some voters regard almost as suspiciously as Scientology, but two other problems may prove more threatening to his candidacy. The first is that in American public life piety always goeth before a fall. There had better not be any skeletons in his closet. Already Senator Brownback has accused Mr. Romney of pushing hard-core pornography because of his close association with (and large campaign contributions from) the Marriott family, whose hotel chain has prospered mightily from its X-rated video menu.

The other problem is more profound: Mr. Romney is swimming against a swift tide of history in both culture and politics. Just as the neocons had their moment in power in the Bush era and squandered it in Iraq, so the values crowd was handed its moment of ascendancy and imploded in debacles ranging from Terri Schiavo to Ted Haggard to David Vitter. By this point it’s safe to say that even some Republican primary voters are sick enough of their party’s preacher politicians that they’d consider hitting a cigar bar or two with Judith Giuliani.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Glenn Greenwald - Bush's magical shield from criminal prosecution

Bush's magical shield from criminal prosecution
Glenn Greenwald

The Bush administration decided to announce to Washington Post reporters Dan Eggen and Amy Goldstein its view that it has the power to block the Justice Department, and its U.S. Attorneys, from criminally prosecuting Executive Branch employees who refuse to comply with Congressional subpoenas, notwithstanding a statute enacted by the American people through their Congress requiring such prosecution where Congress issues a contempt citation. We do not know who specifically in the administration announced this obviously radical position because the Post courteously granted them a shield of anonymity to hide behind.

The adminsitration's position is grounded in a 1984 Reagan administration memo (.pdf) written by then-OLC official Ted Olson which made the same claim. Back then, the EPA refused to turn over to Congress subpoenaed documents as part of a Congressional investigation into Superfund enforcement, causing Congress to cite the EPA officials for criminal contempt. The conflict was never resolved because the EPA ultimately agreed to turn over the demanded documents.

There are several points worth noting here:

(1) What is most significant is, as always, the underlying theory on which this claim is based. From the Post article:

David B. Rifkin, who worked in the Justice Department and White House counsel's office under presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, praised the position and said it is consistent with the idea of a "unitary executive." In practical terms, he said, "U.S. attorneys are emanations of a president's will." And in constitutional terms, he said, "the president has decided, by virtue of invoking executive privilege, that is the correct policy for the entire executive branch."

Just contemplate what that actually means. One of the primary, defining attributes of a civilized society that lives under the rule of law is prosecutorial independence. Without that, political opponents of those in power can be prosecuted for political rather than legal reasons. And worse still, our most powerful political leaders are free to break the law with impunity because they control the prosecutorial process, which -- in this warped view of our republic -- means that presidents have an absolute power to block criminal prosecution of their subordinates who break the law, provided it was done at the President's behest.

The administration's theory is an absolute denial of prosecutorial independence. It means that federal prosecutors are nothing more than obedient servants of the President. They are not merely appointed by the President, but their specific decisions about whether to prosecute executive branch officials for criminal acts are controlled and dictated by the President. They are nothing more, as Rifkin said, than "emanations of the president's will."

It is hard to overstate how threatening that posture is to the defining attribute of a government that lives under the rule of law. As the Supreme Court said in 1974 in U.S. v. Nixon, when recognizing the validity of Executive Privilege in some cases but ordering President Nixon to turn over tapes of his private conversations with his aides (emphasis added; brackets in original):

This presumptive privilege must be considered in light of our historic commitment to the rule of law. This is nowhere more profoundly manifest than in our view that "the twofold aim [of criminal justice] is that guilt shall not escape or innocence suffer."

The administration's position is a direct assault on prosecutorial independence, and an attempt to vest the President with the unchallengeable power to block criminal prosecutions of anyone in the Executive Branch who breaks the law at the President's direction.

(2) What the Bush administration is doing here is not merely defying (another) Congressional statute, but -- as usual -- also denying the power of the judiciary to interpret the law and compel adherence to the mandates of law. The great unanswered question of the Bush administration has been, and continues to be, whether, upon losing a judicial battle, they would explicitly claim the right to defy the judicial order on the ground that the order exceeds proper judicial authority.

In the typical Bush signing statement, the President emphasizes that he will execute laws not only consistent with his claimed executive power (meaning he will ignore the parts of the law which he thinks unduly restrains him), but will also execute the law "consistent with the constitutional limitations on the judicial power." Always lurking at the core of these radical assertions of executive power is the belief that they can defy court orders due to the claimed "constitutional limitations on the judicial power."

The Olson Memorandum on which they are relying specifically emphasizes the following:

The President, through a United States Attorney, need not, indeed may not, prosecute criminally a subordinate for asserting on his behalf a claim of executive privilege. Nor could the Legislative Branch or the courts require or implement the prosecution of such an individual.

That means that if Congress and the administration end up in court over enforcement of the criminal contempt statute, and the court rejects the administration's theory and finds that Congress does have the authority to compel the U.S. Attorney to present its contempt citations to a Grand Jury, the administration would be free to defy that judicial finding, and continue to block its U.S. Attorneys from prosecuting, since -- they claim -- courts lack the authority to "require or implement the prosecution" of an Executive Branch employee who defies a Subpoena at the President's direction.

The theory they are touting places criminal Executive Branch employees beyond the reach of courts, and means that they would have the right to defy any court which rejects their theory and rules against them. Though they have not yet explicitly exercised that court-defying power, they clearly believe they possess it.

(3) It is important to note, as the Olson Memorandum did, that even if Congress cannot compel the U.S. Attorney to present the contempt citation to a Grand Jury, there are other Congressional mechanisms to test the validity of the President's executive privilege theory, and presumably, the administration is not (at least not yet) contesting those. Former OLC official Marty Lederman described those options several weeks ago here. Aside from the "inherent contempt" power which the Post highlights -- whereby Congress can literally just convene its own trial and even forcibly arrest those who are guilty -- there is also a civil mechanism whereby it can commence a lawsuit in a federal court seeking a ruling on the validity of the Executive Privilege claims from the president.

Not every questionable assertion of Executive Privilege should be resolved in the context of a criminal prosecution because not every refusal to comply with a subpoena is criminal or even wrong. There is such a thing as "Executive Privilege," and -- like all other privileges, such as attorney/client or doctor/patient -- it does sometimes entitle defiance of a subpoena. It happens all the time in judicial proceedings that subpoenas are issued, the subpoenaed party claims a right not to comply, and both sides then present their arguments to a court, which resolves the dispute.

But refusals to comply with subpoenas become criminal where they are grounded not in good faith (even if questionable) assertions of privilege, but where, instead, a contempt for the rule of law is evidenced because one party abuses legitimate privileges in order to shield itself from investigation and accountability.

What the Bush administration is asserting here is the power to abolish that distinction, to immunize itself completely from the threat of criminal prosecution in those cases where it plainly abuses the assertion of privilege (as it is undoubtedly doing now) in order to immunize itself from accountability under the law. It removes completely the specter of criminal prosecution for refusing to comply with lawful investigations by vesting in the President an absolute, unchallengeable power to defy all subpoenas even where it has no arguable basis for doing so, by vesting in him the power literally to order federal prosecutors not to pursue an indictment.

(4) I confess some difficulty here in becoming particularly outraged over this latest theory. There is nothing new here. As has long been known, this administration believes themselves to reside above and beyond the reach of the law. What else would they need to do in order to make that as clear as can be? They got caught red-handed committing multiple felonies -- by eavesdropping on Americans in precisely the way the law we enacted 30 years ago prohibited -- and they not only admitted it, but vowed to continue to break our laws, and asserted the right to do so. And nothing happened.

This latest assertion of power -- to literally block U.S. Attorneys from prosecuting executive branch employees -- is but another reflection of the lawlessness prevailing in our country, not a new revelation. We know the administration breaks laws with impunity and believes it can. That is no longer in question. The only real question is what, if anything, we are willing to do about that.

Yes, it is true that, as various Democratic statements are claiming, this theory poses a constitutional crisis since, yet again, the President declares the other two branches of government impotent and himself omnipotent. But we have had such a crisis for the last five years. We have just chosen to ignore it, to acquiesce to it, to allow it to fester.

There is no magic force that is going to descend from the sky and strike with lighting at George Bush and Dick Cheney for so flagrantly subverting our constitutional order. The Founders created various checks for confronting tyrannical abuses of power, but they have to be activated by political will and the courage to confront it. That has been lacking. Hence, they have seized omnipotent powers with impunity.

At this point, the blame rests not with the Bush administration. They have long made clear what they believe and, especially, what they are. They have been rubbing in our faces for several years the fact that they believe they can ignore the law and do what they want because nobody is willing to do anything about it. Thus far, they have been right, and the blame rests with those who have acquiesced to it.

It has been six months since the Democrats took over Congress. Yes, they have commenced some investigations and highlighted some wrongdoing. But that is but the first step, not the ultimate step, which we desperately need. Where are the real confrontations needed to vindicate the rule of law and restore constitutional order? No reasonable person can dispute that in the absence of genuine compulsion (and perhaps even then), the administration will continue to treat "the law" as something optional, and their power as absolute. Their wrongdoing is extreme, and only equally extreme corrective measures will suffice.


http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2007/07/20/executive_privilege/index.html

Paul Krugman - All the President’s Enablers

All the President’s Enablers

By PAUL KRUGMAN

In a coordinated public relations offensive, the White House is using reliably friendly pundits — amazingly, they still exist — to put out the word that President Bush is as upbeat and confident as ever. It might even be true.

What I don’t understand is why we’re supposed to consider Mr. Bush’s continuing confidence a good thing.

Remember, Mr. Bush was confident six years ago when he promised to bring in Osama, dead or alive. He was confident four years ago, when he told the insurgents to bring it on. He was confident two years ago, when he told Brownie that he was doing a heckuva job.

Now Iraq is a bloody quagmire, Afghanistan is deteriorating and the Bush administration’s own National Intelligence Estimate admits, in effect, that thanks to Mr. Bush’s poor leadership America is losing the struggle with Al Qaeda. Yet Mr. Bush remains confident.

Sorry, but that’s not reassuring; it’s terrifying. It doesn’t demonstrate Mr. Bush’s strength of character; it shows that he has lost touch with reality.

Actually, it’s not clear that he ever was in touch with reality. I wrote about the Bush administration’s “infallibility complex,” its inability to admit mistakes or face up to real problems it didn’t want to deal with, in June 2002. Around the same time Ron Suskind, the investigative journalist, had a conversation with a senior Bush adviser who mocked the “reality-based community,” asserting that “when we act, we create our own reality.”

People who worried that the administration was living in a fantasy world used to be dismissed as victims of “Bush derangement syndrome,” liberals driven mad by Mr. Bush’s success. Now, however, it’s a syndrome that has spread even to former loyal Bushies.

Yet while Mr. Bush no longer has many true believers, he still has plenty of enablers — people who understand the folly of his actions, but refuse to do anything to stop him.

This week’s prime example is Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, who made headlines a few weeks ago with a speech declaring that “our course in Iraq has lost contact with our vital national security interests.” Mr. Lugar is a smart, sensible man. He once acted courageously to head off another foreign policy disaster, persuading a reluctant Ronald Reagan to stop supporting Ferdinand Marcos, the corrupt leader of the Philippines, after a stolen election.

Yet that political courage was nowhere in evidence when Senate Democrats tried to get a vote on a measure that would have forced a course change in Iraq, and Republicans responded by threatening a filibuster. Mr. Lugar, along with several other Republicans who have expressed doubts about the war, voted against cutting off debate, thereby helping ensure that the folly he described so accurately in his Iraq speech will go on.

Thanks to that vote, nothing will happen until Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, delivers his report in September. But don’t expect too much even then. I hope he proves me wrong, but the general’s history suggests that he’s another smart, sensible enabler.

I don’t know why the op-ed article that General Petraeus published in The Washington Post on Sept. 26, 2004, hasn’t gotten more attention. After all, it puts to rest any notion that the general stands above politics: I don’t think it’s standard practice for serving military officers to publish opinion pieces that are strikingly helpful to an incumbent, six weeks before a national election.

In the article, General Petraeus told us that “Iraqi leaders are stepping forward, leading their country and their security forces courageously.” And those security forces were doing just fine: their leaders “are displaying courage and resilience” and “momentum has gathered in recent months.”

In other words, General Petraeus, without saying anything falsifiable, conveyed the totally misleading impression, highly convenient for his political masters, that victory was just around the corner. And the best guess has to be that he’ll do the same thing three years later.

You know, at this point I think we need to stop blaming Mr. Bush for the mess we’re in. He is what he always was, and everyone except a hard core of equally delusional loyalists knows it.

Yet Mr. Bush keeps doing damage because many people who understand how his folly is endangering the nation’s security still refuse, out of political caution and careerism, to do anything about it.

Broader Privilege Claimed In Firings

Broader Privilege Claimed In Firings
White House Says Hill Can't Pursue Contempt Cases

By Dan Eggen and Amy Goldstein
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, July 20, 2007; A01

Bush administration officials unveiled a bold new assertion of executive authority yesterday in the dispute over the firing of nine U.S. attorneys, saying that the Justice Department will never be allowed to pursue contempt charges initiated by Congress against White House officials once the president has invoked executive privilege.

The position presents serious legal and political obstacles for congressional Democrats, who have begun laying the groundwork for contempt proceedings against current and former White House officials in order to pry loose information about the dismissals.

Under federal law, a statutory contempt citation by the House or Senate must be submitted to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, "whose duty it shall be to bring the matter before the grand jury for its action."

But administration officials argued yesterday that Congress has no power to force a U.S. attorney to pursue contempt charges in cases, such as the prosecutor firings, in which the president has declared that testimony or documents are protected from release by executive privilege. Officials pointed to a Justice Department legal opinion during the Reagan administration, which made the same argument in a case that was never resolved by the courts.

"A U.S. attorney would not be permitted to bring contempt charges or convene a grand jury in an executive privilege case," said a senior official, who said his remarks reflect a consensus within the administration. "And a U.S. attorney wouldn't be permitted to argue against the reasoned legal opinion that the Justice Department provided. No one should expect that to happen."

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly, added: "It has long been understood that, in circumstances like these, the constitutional prerogatives of the president would make it a futile and purely political act for Congress to refer contempt citations to U.S. attorneys."

Mark J. Rozell, a professor of public policy at George Mason University who has written a book on executive-privilege issues, called the administration's stance "astonishing."

"That's a breathtakingly broad view of the president's role in this system of separation of powers," Rozell said. "What this statement is saying is the president's claim of executive privilege trumps all."

The administration's statement is a dramatic attempt to seize the upper hand in an escalating constitutional battle with Congress, which has been trying for months, without success, to compel White House officials to testify and to turn over documents about their roles in the prosecutor firings last year. The Justice Department and White House in recent weeks have been discussing when and how to disclose the stance, and the official said he decided yesterday that it was time to highlight it.

Yesterday, a House Judiciary subcommittee voted to lay the groundwork for contempt proceedings against White House chief of staff Joshua B. Bolten, following a similar decision last week against former White House counsel Harriet E. Miers.

The administration has not directly informed Congress of its view. A spokeswoman for Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), the Judiciary Committee's chairman, declined to comment . But other leading Democrats attacked the argument.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) called it "an outrageous abuse of executive privilege" and said: "The White House must stop stonewalling and start being accountable to Congress and the American people. No one, including the president, is above the law."

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) said the administration is "hastening a constitutional crisis," and Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) said the position "makes a mockery of the ideal that no one is above the law."

Waxman added: "I suppose the next step would be just disbanding the Justice Department."

Under long-established procedures and laws, the House and Senate can each pursue two kinds of criminal contempt proceedings, and the Senate also has a civil contempt option. The first, called statutory contempt, has been the avenue most frequently pursued in modern times, and is the one that requires a referral to the U.S. attorney in the District.

Both chambers also have an "inherent contempt" power, allowing either body to hold its own trials and even jail those found in defiance of Congress. Although widely used during the 19th century, the power has not been invoked since 1934 and Democratic lawmakers have not displayed an appetite for reviving the practice.

In defending its argument, administration officials point to a 1984 opinion by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, headed at the time by Theodore B. Olson, a prominent conservative lawyer who was solicitor general from 2001 to 2004. The opinion centered on a contempt citation issued by the House for Anne Gorsuch Burford, then administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

It concluded: "The President, through a United States Attorney, need not, indeed may not, prosecute criminally a subordinate for asserting on his behalf a claim of executive privilege. Nor could the Legislative Branch or the courts require or implement the prosecution of such an individual."

In the Burford case, which involved spending on the Superfund program, the White House filed a federal lawsuit to block Congress's contempt action. The conflict subsided when Burford turned over documents to Congress.

The Bush administration has not previously signaled it would forbid a U.S. attorney from pursuing a contempt case in relation to the prosecutor firings. But officials at Justice and elsewhere say it has long held that Congress cannot force such action.

David B. Rifkin, who worked in the Justice Department and White House counsel's office under presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, praised the position and said it is consistent with the idea of a "unitary executive." In practical terms, he said, "U.S. attorneys are emanations of a president's will." And in constitutional terms, he said, "the president has decided, by virtue of invoking executive privilege, that is the correct policy for the entire executive branch."

But Stanley Brand, who was the Democratic House counsel during the Burford case, said the administration's legal view "turns the constitutional enforcement process on its head. They are saying they will always place a claim of presidential privilege without any judicial determination above a congressional demand for evidence -- without any basis in law." Brand said the position is essentially telling Congress: "Because we control the enforcement process, we are going to thumb our nose at you."

Rozell, the George Mason professor and authority on executive privilege, said the administration's stance "is almost Nixonian in its scope and breadth of interpreting its power. Congress has no recourse at all, in the president's view. . . . It's allowing the executive to define the scope and limits of its own powers."

Research editor Alice Crites contributed to this report.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/07/19/AR2007071902625_pf.html

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Iraq hasn't even begun

Iraq hasn't even begun
Consequences from the disaster we could have avoided will plague the world long into the future.
By Timothy Garton Ash
TIMOTHY GARTON ASH, a contributing editor to Opinion, is professor of European studies at Oxford University and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

July 19, 2007

IRAQ IS OVER. Iraq has not yet begun. These are two conclusions from the American debate about Iraq.

Iraq is over insofar as the American public has decided that most U.S. troops should leave. In a Gallup poll earlier this month, 71% favored "removing all U.S. troops from Iraq by April 1 of next year, except for a limited number that would be involved in counter-terrorism efforts." CNN's veteran political analyst, Bill Schneider, observes that in the latter years of the Vietnam War, the American public's basic attitude could be summarized as "either win or get out." He argues that it's the same with Iraq. Most Americans have now concluded that the U.S. is not winning. So: Get out.



Because this is a democracy, their elected representatives are following where the people lead. Although the Democrats did not get the result they wanted in an all-night marathon on the floor of the Senate, from Tuesday to Wednesday this week, no one in Washington doubts that this is the way the wind blows. Publicly, there's still a sharp split along party lines, but leading Republicans are already breaking ranks to float their own phased troop-reduction plans.

President Bush says he's determined to give the commanding general in Iraq, David Petraeus, the troop levels he asks for when he reports back in September, and the White House may hold the line for now against a Democrat-controlled Congress. Leading Republican contenders for the presidency are still talking tough. However, the most outspoken protagonist of hanging in there to win in Iraq, John McCain, has seen his campaign nosedive. Even if the next president is a hard-line Republican, all the current Washington betting will be confounded if he does not, at the very least, rapidly reduce the number of U.S. troops in Iraq. After all, that's what the American people plainly say they want.

The American people's verdict is remarkably sharp on other aspects of the Iraq debacle. In a poll for CNN, 54% said the United States' action in Iraq was not morally justified. In one for CBS, 51% endorsed the assessment — shared by most of the experts — that U.S. involvement in Iraq was creating more, not fewer, terrorists hostile to the United States. If once Americans were blind, they now can see. For all its plenitude of faith, this is a reality-based nation.



So Iraq is over. But Iraq has not yet begun. Not yet begun in terms of the consequences for Iraq itself, the Middle East, the United States' own foreign policy and its reputation in the world. The most probable consequence of rapid U.S. withdrawal from Iraq in its present condition is a further bloodbath, with even larger refugee flows and the effective dismemberment of the country. Already, about 2 million Iraqis have fled across the borders, and more than 2 million are internally displaced.

Now a pained and painstaking study from the Brookings Institution argues that what its authors call "soft partition" — the peaceful, voluntary transfer of an estimated 2 million to 5 million Iraqis into distinct Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite regions, under close U.S. military supervision — would be the lesser evil. The lesser evil, that is, assuming that all goes according to plan and that Americans are prepared to allow their troops to stay in sufficient numbers to accomplish that thankless job — two implausible assumptions. A greater evil is more likely.

In an article for the Web magazine Open Democracy, Middle East specialist Fred Halliday spells out some regional consequences. Besides the effective destruction of the Iraqi state, these include the revitalizing of militant Islamism and enhancement of the international appeal of the Al Qaeda brand; the eruption, for the first time in modern history, of internecine war between Sunni and Shiite, "a trend that reverberates in other states of mixed confessional composition"; the alienation of most sectors of Turkish politics from the West and the stimulation of authoritarian nationalism there; the strengthening of a nuclear-hungry Iran; and a new regional rivalry pitting the Islamic Republic of Iran and its allies, including Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas, against Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan.

For the United States, the world is now, as a result of the Iraq war, a more dangerous place. At the end of 2002, what is sometimes tagged "Al Qaeda Central" in Afghanistan had been virtually destroyed, and there was no Al Qaeda in Iraq. In 2007, there is an Al Qaeda in Iraq, parts of the old Al Qaeda are creeping back into Afghanistan and there are Al Qaeda emulators spawning elsewhere, notably in Europe.

Osama bin Laden's plan was to get the U.S. to overreact and overreach itself. With the invasion of Iraq, Bush fell slap-bang into that trap. The U.S. government's own latest National Intelligence Estimate, released this week, suggests that Al Qaeda in Iraq is now among the most significant threats to the security of the American homeland.

The U.S. has probably not yet fully woken up to the appalling fact that, after a long period in which the first motto of its military was "no more Vietnams," it faces another Vietnam. There are many important differences, but the basic result is similar: The mightiest military in the world fails to achieve its strategic goals and is, in the end, politically defeated by an economically and technologically inferior adversary.

Even if there are no scenes of helicopters evacuating Americans from the roof of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, there will surely be some totemic photographic image of national humiliation as the U.S. struggles to extract its troops.

Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo have done terrible damage to the U.S. reputation for being humane; this defeat will convince more people around the world that it is not even that powerful. And Bin Laden, still alive, will claim another victory over the death-fearing weaklings of the West.

In history, the most important consequences are often the unintended ones. We do not yet know the longer-term unintended consequences of Iraq. Maybe there is a silver lining hidden somewhere in this cloud. But as far as the human eye can see, the likely consequences of Iraq range from the bad to the catastrophic.

Looking back over a quarter of a century of chronicling current affairs, I cannot recall a more comprehensive and avoidable man-made disaster.

http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-garton19jul19,0,7214015,print.story

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Frank Rich - Don’t Laugh at Michael Chertoff

Don’t Laugh at Michael Chertoff

By FRANK RICH

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, President Bush's fallback choice for secretary of Homeland Security after Bernard Kerik, is best remembered for his tragicomic performance during Hurricane Katrina. He gave his underling, the woeful Brownie, a run for the gold.

It was Mr. Chertoff who announced that the Superdome in New Orleans was "secure" even as the other half of the split screen offered graphic evidence otherwise. It was Mr. Chertoff who told NPR that he had "not heard a report of thousands of people in the convention center who do not have food and water," even after his fellow citizens had been inundated with such reports all day long.

With Brownie as the designated fall guy, Mr. Chertoff kept his job. Since then he has attracted notice only when lavishing pork on terrorist targets like an Alabama petting zoo while reducing grants to New York City. Though Mr. Chertoff may be the man standing between us and Armageddon, he is seen as a leader of stature only when standing next to his cabinet mate Gonzo.

But even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Last week, as the Bush administration frantically tried to counter Republican defections from the war in Iraq, Mr. Chertoff alone departed from the administration's script to talk about the enemy that actually did attack America on 9/11, Al Qaeda, rather than Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the jihad-come-lately gang Mr. Bush is fond of talking about instead. In this White House, the occasional official who strays off script is in all likelihood inadvertently coughing up the truth.

Mr. Chertoff was promptly hammered for it. His admission of "a gut feeling" that America might be vulnerable to a terrorist attack this summer was universally ridiculed as a gaffe. He then tried to retreat, but as he did so, his dire prognosis was confirmed by an intelligence leak. The draft of a new classified threat assessment found that Al Qaeda has regrouped and is stronger than at any time since 2001. Its operational base is the same ungoverned Pakistan wilderness where we've repeatedly failed to capture Osama bin Laden dead or alive for six years.

So give Mr. Chertoff credit for keeping his eye on the enemy while everyone else in the capital is debating never-to-be-realized benchmarks for an Iraqi government that exists in name only. Just as President Bush ignored that August 2001 brief "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.," so Washington, some of its press corps included, is poised to shrug off the August 2007 update "Al Qaeda Better Positioned to Strike the West." The capital has been sucker-punched by the administration's latest P.R. offensive to prop up the fiasco in Iraq.

The White House's game is to create a new fictional story line to keep the war going until President Bush can dump it on his successor. Bizarrely, some of the new scenario echoes the bogus narrative used to sell the war in 2002: an imaginary connection between Iraq and the attacks of 9/11. You'd think the Bush administration might think twice before recycling old lies, but things have gotten so bad in the bunker that even Karl Rove is repeating himself.

Fittingly, one of the first in Washington to notice the rollout of the latest propaganda offensive was one of the very few journalists who uncovered the administration's manipulation of W.M.D. intelligence in 2002: Jonathan Landay of the McClatchy newspapers.

This time around, he was ahead of the pack in catching the sudden uptick in references to Al Qaeda in the president's speeches about Iraq — 27 in a single speech on June 28 — and an equal decline in references to the Sunni-Shiite sectarian violence at the heart of the Iraqi civil war America is powerless to stop. Even more incriminating was Mr. Landay's discovery that the military was following Mr. Bush's script verbatim. There were 33 citations of Al Qaeda in a single week's worth of military news releases in late June, up from only 9 such mentions in May.

None of this is accidental. The administration knows that its last stated mission for the war — "an Iraq that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself" — is as doomed as the Iraqi army that would "stand up" so we could stand down. So now there's a new "mission" — or at least new boilerplate. "Victory is defeating Al Qaeda," Tony Snow said last week, because "Al Qaeda continues to be the chief organizer of mayhem within Iraq." What's more, its members are, in Mr. Bush's words, "the ones who attacked us in America on September the 11th."

This is hooey, of course. Not only did Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia not exist before we invaded Iraq in 2003, but it isn't even the chief organizer of the war's mayhem today. ABC News reported this month that this group may be responsible for no more than 15 percent of the attacks in Iraq. Bob Woodward wrote in The Washington Post on Thursday that Michael Hayden, the C.I.A. director, told Mr. Bush last November that Al Qaeda was only the fifth most pressing threat in Iraq, after the insurgency, sectarian strife, criminality and general anarchy.

So what if the Qaeda that's operating with impunity out of Pakistan, North Africa and other non-Iraq havens actually is the most pressing threat to America? This president is never one to let facts get in the way of a political agenda. That agenda is to avoid taking responsibility for losing a war, no matter how many more Americans are tossed into its carnage. From here on in, you can be sure that whomever we're fighting in Iraq on any given day will be no more than one degree of separation from bin Laden.

Nor do the latest fictionalizations end there. To further prop up the war, Mr. Bush had to find some way to forestall verdicts on the "surge," which commanders had predicted could be judged by late summer. He also had to neutralize last week's downbeat Congress-mandated report card on the Iraqi government's progress toward its 18 benchmarks.

The latter task was easy. The report card grades on a steep curve (and even then must settle for a C-minus average and a couple of incompletes). Deflecting gloom about the "surge" is trickier. It's hard to argue that we're on our way to securing Baghdad, the stated goal, when attacks on our own safe haven, the Green Zone, are rising rapidly, more than doubling from March to May, according to the United Nations.

But you can never underestimate this White House's ingenuity. It turns out that the "surge," which most Americans thought began shortly after the president announced it in January, is brand-new! We're just "at the starting line," Tony Snow told the network morning news shows last week, as he pounded in the message that "we have a new course in Iraq, and it's two weeks old."

Mr. Snow's television hosts were not so rude as to point out that the Pentagon had previously designated Feb. 14 as the starting line of the surge's first operation, and had also said that its March report on Iraq should be used as the "baseline from which to measure future progress." That was then, and this is now. The Baghdad clock has been reset. July is the new February. As we slouch toward the sixth anniversary of 9/11, the war against Al Qaeda has only just begun.

Swamped with such fiction, Washington is unable to cope. Network newscasts are still failing to distinguish the Qaeda Mr. Bush talks about from the 9/11 terrorists. The Iraq dead-enders in Congress and the neocon punditocracy have now defined victory down to defeating Mr. Bush's mini-Qaeda in a single Iraqi province, Anbar. Meanwhile, our ally Pervez Musharraf's shaky regime in Pakistan lets Al Qaeda plot its next mass murder.

The capital's entire political debate over Iraq — stay-the-surge versus "precipitous withdrawal" — is itself pure hot air. Even though felons and the obese are now being signed up to meet Army recruitment shortfalls, we still can't extend the surge past next April, when troops for Iraq run out unless Mr. Bush extends their tours yet again. "Precipitous withdrawal" (which no withdrawal bill in Congress calls for) is a non sequitur, since any withdrawal would take at least 10 months. Rather than have the real debate about how to manage the exit, politically panicked Republicans hope to cast symbolic votes that will allow them to tell voters they were for ending the war before they prolonged it.

That leaves Mr. Chertoff, whose department has vacancies in a quarter of its top leadership positions, as the de facto general in charge of defending us from the enemy he had that "gut feeling" about, the Qaeda not in Iraq. Last week we learned from a sting operation conducted by Congressional investigators that this enemy needs only a Mail Boxes Etc. account, a phone and a fax machine to buy radioactive material from American suppliers and build a dirty bomb.

For all Washington's hyperventilating about the Iraqi Parliament's vacation plans, it's our own government's vacation from reality this summer that should make us very afraid.

Ship of fools: Johann Hari sets sail with America's swashbuckling neocons

Ship of fools: Johann Hari sets sail with America's swashbuckling neocons


The Iraq war has been an amazing success, global warming is just a myth – and as for Guantanamo Bay, it's practically a holiday camp... The annual cruise organised by the 'National Review', mouthpiece of right-wing America, is a parallel universe populated by straight-talking, gun-toting, God-fearing Republicans.

By Johann Hari
Published: 13 July 2007

I am standing waist-deep in the Pacific Ocean, both chilling and burning, indulging in the polite chit-chat beloved by vacationing Americans. A sweet elderly lady from Los Angeles is sitting on the rocks nearby, telling me dreamily about her son. "Is he your only child?" I ask. "Yes," she says. "Do you have a child back in England?" she asks. No, I say. Her face darkens. "You'd better start," she says. "The Muslims are breeding. Soon, they'll have the whole of Europe."

I am getting used to these moments – when gentle holiday geniality bleeds into... what? I lie on the beach with Hillary-Ann, a chatty, scatty 35-year-old Californian designer. As she explains the perils of Republican dating, my mind drifts, watching the gentle tide. When I hear her say, " Of course, we need to execute some of these people," I wake up. Who do we need to execute? She runs her fingers through the sand lazily. "A few of these prominent liberals who are trying to demoralise the country," she says. "Just take a couple of these anti-war people off to the gas chamber for treason to show, if you try to bring down America at a time of war, that's what you'll get." She squints at the sun and smiles. " Then things'll change."

I am travelling on a bright white cruise ship with two restaurants, five bars, a casino – and 500 readers of the National Review. Here, the Iraq war has been "an amazing success". Global warming is not happening. The solitary black person claims, "If the Ku Klux Klan supports equal rights, then God bless them." And I have nowhere to run.

From time to time, National Review – the bible of American conservatism – organises a cruise for its readers. I paid $1,200 to join them. The rules I imposed on myself were simple: If any of the conservative cruisers asked who I was, I answered honestly, telling them I was a journalist. Mostly, I just tried to blend in – and find out what American conservatives say when they think the rest of us aren't listening.

I. From sweet to suicide bomber

I arrive at the dockside in San Diego on Saturday afternoon and stare up at the Oosterdam, our home for the next seven days. Filipino boat hands are loading trunks into the hull and wealthy white folk are gliding onto its polished boards with pale sun parasols dangling off their arms.

The Reviewers have been told to gather for a cocktail reception on the Lido, near the very top of the ship. I arrive to find a tableau from Gone With the Wind, washed in a thousand shades of grey. Southern belles – aged and pinched – are flirting with old conservative warriors. The etiquette here is different from anything I have ever seen. It takes me 15 minutes to realise what is wrong with this scene. There are no big hugs, no warm kisses. This is a place of starchy handshakes. Men approach each other with stiffened spines, puffed-out chests and crunching handshakes. Women are greeted with a single kiss on the cheek. Anything more would be French.

I adjust and stiffly greet the first man I see. He is a judge, with the craggy self-important charm that slowly consumes any judge. He is from Canada, he declares (a little more apologetically), and is the founding president of "Canadians Against Suicide Bombing". Would there be many members of "Canadians for Suicide Bombing?" I ask. Dismayed, he suggests that yes, there would.

A bell rings somewhere, and we are all beckoned to dinner. We have been assigned random seats, which will change each night. We will, the publicity pack promises, each dine with at least one National Review speaker during our trip.

To my left, I find a middle-aged Floridian with a neat beard. To my right are two elderly New Yorkers who look and sound like late-era Dorothy Parkers, minus the alcohol poisoning. They live on Park Avenue, they explain in precise Northern tones. "You must live near the UN building," the Floridian says to one of the New York ladies after the entree is served. Yes, she responds, shaking her head wearily. "They should suicide-bomb that place," he says. They all chuckle gently. How did that happen? How do you go from sweet to suicide-bomb in six seconds?

The conversation ebbs back to friendly chit-chat. So, you're a European, one of the Park Avenue ladies says, before offering witty commentaries on the cities she's visited. Her companion adds, "I went to Paris, and it was so lovely." Her face darkens: "But then you think – it's surrounded by Muslims." The first lady nods: "They're out there, and they're coming." Emboldened, the bearded Floridian wags a finger and says, "Down the line, we're not going to bail out the French again." He mimes picking up a phone and shouts into it, "I can't hear you, Jacques! What's that? The Muslims are doing what to you? I can't hear you!"

Now that this barrier has been broken – everyone agrees the Muslims are devouring the French, and everyone agrees it's funny – the usual suspects are quickly rounded up. Jimmy Carter is "almost a traitor". John McCain is "crazy" because of "all that torture". One of the Park Avenue ladies declares that she gets on her knees every day to " thank God for Fox News". As the wine reaches the Floridian, he announces, "This cruise is the best money I ever spent."

They rush through the Rush-list of liberals who hate America, who want her to fail, and I ask them – why are liberals like this? What's their motivation? They stutter to a halt and there is a long, puzzled silence. " It's a good question," one of them, Martha, says finally. I have asked them to peer into the minds of cartoons and they are suddenly, reluctantly confronted with the hollowness of their creation. "There have always been intellectuals who want to tell people how to live," Martha adds, to an almost visible sense of relief. That's it – the intellectuals! They are not like us. Dave changes the subject, to wash away this moment of cognitive dissonance. "The liberals don't believe in the constitution. They don't believe in what the founders wanted – a strong executive," he announces, to nods. A Filipino waiter offers him a top-up of his wine, and he mock-whispers to me, "They all look the same! Can you tell them apart?" I stare out to sea. How long would it take me to drown?

II. "We're doing an excellent job killing them."

The Vista Lounge is a Vegas-style showroom, with glistening gold edges and the desperate optimism of an ageing Cha-Cha girl. Today, the scenery has been cleared away – "I always sit at the front in these shows to see if the girls are really pretty and on this ship they are ug-lee," I hear a Reviewer mutter – and our performers are the assorted purveyors of conservative show tunes, from Podhoretz to Steyn. The first of the trip's seminars is a discussion intended to exhume the conservative corpse and discover its cause of death on the black, black night of 7 November, 2006, when the treacherous Democrats took control of the US Congress.

There is something strange about this discussion, and it takes me a few moments to realise exactly what it is. All the tropes that conservatives usually deny in public – that Iraq is another Vietnam, that Bush is fighting a class war on behalf of the rich – are embraced on this shining ship in the middle of the ocean. Yes, they concede, we are fighting another Vietnam; and this time we won't let the weak-kneed liberals lose it. "It's customary to say we lost the Vietnam war, but who's 'we'?" the writer Dinesh D'Souza asks angrily. "The left won by demanding America's humiliation." On this ship, there are no Viet Cong, no three million dead. There is only liberal treachery. Yes, D'Souza says, in a swift shift to domestic politics, "of course" Republican politics is "about class. Republicans are the party of winners, Democrats are the party of losers."

The panel nods, but it doesn't want to stray from Iraq. Robert Bork, Ronald Reagan's one-time nominee to the Supreme Court, mumbles from beneath low-hanging jowls: "The coverage of this war is unbelievable. Even Fox News is unbelievable. You'd think we're the only ones dying. Enemy casualties aren't covered. We're doing an excellent job killing them."

Then, with a judder, the panel runs momentarily aground. Rich Lowry, the preppy, handsome 38-year-old editor of National Review, says, "The American public isn't concluding we're losing in Iraq for any irrational reason. They're looking at the cold, hard facts." The Vista Lounge is, as one, perplexed. Lowry continues, "I wish it was true that, because we're a superpower, we can't lose. But it's not."

No one argues with him. They just look away, in the same manner that people avoid glancing at a crazy person yelling at a bus stop. Then they return to hyperbole and accusations of treachery against people like their editor. The ageing historian Bernard Lewis – who was deputed to stiffen Dick Cheney's spine in the run-up to the war – declares, "The election in the US is being seen by [the bin Ladenists] as a victory on a par with the collapse of the Soviet Union. We should be prepared for whatever comes next." This is why the guests paid up to $6,000. This is what they came for. They give him a wheezing, stooping ovation and break for coffee.

A fracture-line in the lumbering certainty of American conservatism is opening right before my eyes. Following the break, Norman Podhoretz and William Buckley – two of the grand old men of the Grand Old Party – begin to feud. Podhoretz will not stop speaking – "I have lots of ex-friends on the left; it looks like I'm going to have some ex-friends on the right, too," he rants –and Buckley says to the chair, " Just take the mike, there's no other way." He says it with a smile, but with heavy eyes.

Podhoretz and Buckley now inhabit opposite poles of post-September 11 American conservatism, and they stare at wholly different Iraqs. Podhoretz is the Brooklyn-born, street-fighting kid who travelled through a long phase of left-liberalism to a pugilistic belief in America's power to redeem the world, one bomb at a time. Today, he is a bristling grey ball of aggression, here to declare that the Iraq war has been "an amazing success." He waves his fist and declaims: "There were WMD, and they were shipped to Syria ... This picture of a country in total chaos with no security is false. It has been a triumph. It couldn't have gone better." He wants more wars, and fast. He is "certain" Bush will bomb Iran, and " thank God" for that.

Buckley is an urbane old reactionary, drunk on doubts. He founded the National Review in 1955 – when conservatism was viewed in polite society as a mental affliction – and he has always been sceptical of appeals to " the people," preferring the eternal top-down certainties of Catholicism. He united with Podhoretz in mutual hatred of Godless Communism, but, slouching into his eighties, he possesses a world view that is ill-suited for the fight to bring democracy to the Muslim world. He was a ghostly presence on the cruise at first, appearing only briefly to shake a few hands. But now he has emerged, and he is fighting.

"Aren't you embarrassed by the absence of these weapons?" Buckley snaps at Podhoretz. He has just explained that he supported the war reluctantly, because Dick Cheney convinced him Saddam Hussein had WMD primed to be fired. "No," Podhoretz replies. "As I say, they were shipped to Syria. During Gulf War I, the entire Iraqi air force was hidden in the deserts in Iran." He says he is "heartbroken" by this " rise of defeatism on the right." He adds, apropos of nothing, "There was nobody better than Don Rumsfeld. This defeatist talk only contributes to the impression we are losing, when I think we're winning." The audience cheers Podhoretz. The nuanced doubts of Bill Buckley leave them confused. Doesn't he sound like the liberal media? Later, over dinner, a tablemate from Denver calls Buckley "a coward". His wife nods and says, " Buckley's an old man," tapping her head with her finger to suggest dementia.

I decide to track down Buckley and Podhoretz separately and ask them for interviews. Buckley is sitting forlornly in his cabin, scribbling in a notebook. In 2005, at an event celebrating National Review's 50th birthday, President Bush described today's American conservatives as "Bill's children". I ask him if he feels like a parent whose kids grew up to be serial killers. He smiles slightly, and his blue eyes appear to twinkle. Then he sighs, "The answer is no. Because what animated the conservative core for 40 years was the Soviet menace, plus the rise of dogmatic socialism. That's pretty well gone."

This does not feel like an optimistic defence of his brood, but it's a theme he returns to repeatedly: the great battles of his life are already won. Still, he ruminates over what his old friend Ronald Reagan would have made of Iraq. "I think the prudent Reagan would have figured here, and the prudent Reagan would have shunned a commitment of the kind that we are now engaged in... I think he would have attempted to find some sort of assurance that any exposure by the United States would be exposure to a challenge the dimensions of which we could predict." Lest liberals be too eager to adopt the Gipper as one of their own, Buckley agrees approvingly that Reagan's approach would have been to "find a local strongman" to rule Iraq.

A few floors away, Podhoretz tells me he is losing his voice, "which will make some people very happy". Then he croaks out the standard-issue Wolfowitz line about how, after September 11, the United States had to introduce democracy to the Middle East in order to change the political culture that produced the mass murderers. For somebody who declares democracy to be his goal, he is remarkably blasé about the fact that 80 per cent of Iraqis want US troops to leave their country, according to the latest polls. "I don't much care," he says, batting the question away. He goes on to insist that "nobody was tortured in Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo" and that Bush is "a hero". He is, like most people on this cruise, certain the administration will attack Iran.

Podhoretz excitedly talks himself into a beautiful web of words, vindicating his every position. He fumes at Buckley, George Will and the other apostate conservatives who refuse to see sense. He announces victory. And for a moment, here in the Mexican breeze, it is as though a thousand miles away Baghdad is not bleeding. He starts hacking and coughing painfully. I offer to go to the ship infirmary and get him some throat sweets, and – locked in eternal fighter-mode – he looks thrown, as though this is an especially cunning punch. Is this random act of kindness designed to imbalance him? " I'm fine," he says, glancing contemptuously at the Bill Buckley book I am carrying. "I'll keep on shouting through the soreness."

III. The Ghosts of Conservatism Past

The ghosts of Conservatism past are wandering this ship. From the pool, I see John O'Sullivan, a former adviser to Margaret Thatcher. And one morning on the deck I discover Kenneth Starr, looking like he has stepped out of a long-forgotten 1990s news bulletin waving Monica's stained blue dress. His face is round and unlined, like an immense, contented baby. As I stare at him, all my repressed bewilderment rises, and I ask – Mr Starr, do you feel ashamed that, as Osama bin Laden plotted to murder American citizens, you brought the American government to a stand-still over a few consensual blow jobs? Do you ever lie awake at night wondering if a few more memos on national security would have reached the President's desk if he wasn't spending half his time dealing with your sexual McCarthyism?

He smiles through his teeth and – in his soft somnambulant voice – says in perfect legalese, "I am entirely at rest with the process. The House of Representatives worked its will, the Senate worked its will, the Chief Justice of the United States presided. The constitutional process worked admirably."

It's an oddly meek defence, and the more I challenge him, the more legalistic he becomes. Every answer is a variant on "it's not my fault" . First, he says Clinton should have settled early on in Jones vs Clinton. Then he blames Jimmy Carter. "This critique really should be addressed to the now-departed, moribund independent counsel provisions. The Ethics and Government [provisions] ushered in during President Carter's administration has an extraordinarily low threshold for launching a special prosecutor..."

Enough – I see another, more intriguing ghost. Ward Connerly is the only black person in the National Review posse, a 67-year-old Louisiana-born businessman, best known for leading conservative campaigns against affirmative action for black people. Earlier, I heard him saying the Republican Party has been "too preoccupied with... not ticking off the blacks", and a cooing white couple wandered away smiling, "If he can say it, we can say it." What must it be like to be a black man shilling for a magazine that declared at the height of the civil rights movement that black people "tend to revert to savagery", and should be given the vote only "when they stop eating each other"?

I drag him into the bar, where he declines alcohol. He tells me plainly about his childhood – his mother died when he was four, and he was raised by his grandparents – but he never really becomes animated until I ask him if it is true he once said, "If the KKK supports equal rights, then God bless them." He leans forward, his palms open. There are, he says, " those who condemn the Klan based on their past without seeing the human side of it, because they don't want to be in the wrong, politically correct camp, you know... Members of the Ku Klux Klan are human beings, American citizens – they go to a place to eat, nobody asks them 'Are you a Klansmember?', before we serve you here. They go to buy groceries, nobody asks, 'Are you a Klansmember?' They go to vote for Governor, nobody asks 'Do you know that that person is a Klansmember?' Only in the context of race do they ask that. And I'm supposed to instantly say, 'Oh my God, they are Klansmen? Geez, I don't want their support.'"

This empathy for Klansmen first bubbled into the public domain this year when Connerly was leading an anti-affirmative action campaign in Michigan. The KKK came out in support of him – and he didn't decline it. I ask if he really thinks it is possible the KKK made this move because they have become converted to the cause of racial equality. "I think that the reasoning that a Klan member goes through is – blacks are getting benefits that I'm not getting. It's reverse discrimination. To me it's all discrimination. But the Klansmen is going through the reasoning that this is benefiting blacks, they are getting things that I don't get... A white man doesn't have a chance in this country."

He becomes incredibly impassioned imagining how they feel, ventriloquising them with a shaking fist – "The Mexicans are getting these benefits, the coloureds or niggers, whatever they are saying, are getting these benefits, and I as a white man am losing my country."

But when I ask him to empathise with the black victims of Hurricane Katrina, he offers none of this vim. No, all Katrina showed was "the dysfunctionality that is evident in many black neighbourhoods," he says flatly, and that has to be "tackled by black people, not the government. " Ward, do you ever worry you are siding with people who would have denied you a vote – or would hang you by a rope from a tree?

"I don't gather strength from what others think – no at all," he says. "Whether they are in favour or opposed. I can walk down these halls and, say, a hundred people say, 'Oh we just adore you', and I'll be polite and I'll say 'thank you', but it doesn't register or have any effect on me." There is a gaggle of Reviewers waiting to tell him how refreshing it is to "finally" hear a black person "speaking like this". I leave him to their white, white garlands.

IV. "You're going to get fascists rising up, aren't you? Why hasn't that happened already?"

The nautical counter-revolution has docked in the perfectly-yellow sands of Puerto Vallarta in Mexico, and the Reviewers are clambering overboard into the Latino world they want to wall off behind a thousand-mile fence. They carry notebooks from the scribblings they made during the seminar teaching them "How To Shop in Mexico". Over breakfast, I forgot myself and said I was considering setting out to find a local street kid who would show me round the barrios – the real Mexico. They gaped. "Do you want to die?" one asked.

The Reviewers confine their Mexican jaunt to covered markets and walled-off private fortresses like the private Nikki Beach. Here, as ever, they want Mexico to be a dispenser of cheap consumer goods and lush sands – not a place populated by (uck) Mexicans. Dinesh D'Souza announced as we entered Mexican seas what he calls "D'Souza's law of immigration": " The quality of an immigrant is inversely proportional to the distance travelled to get to the United States."

In other words: Latinos suck.

I return for dinner with my special National Review guest: Kate O'Beirne. She's an impossibly tall blonde with the voice of a 1930s screwball star and the arguments of a 1890s Victorian patriarch. She inveighs against feminism and "women who make the world worse" in quick quips.

As I enter the onboard restaurant she is sitting among adoring Reviewers with her husband Jim, who announces that he is Donald Rumsfeld's personnel director. "People keep asking what I'm doing here, with him being fired and all," he says. "But the cruise has been arranged for a long time."

The familiar routine of the dinners – first the getting-to-know-you chit-chat, then some light conversational fascism – is accelerating. Tonight there is explicit praise for a fascist dictator before the entree has arrived. I drop into the conversation the news that there are moves in Germany to have Donald Rumsfeld extradited to face torture charges.

A red-faced man who looks like an egg with a moustache glued on grumbles, " If the Germans think they can take responsibility for the world, I don't care about German courts. Bomb them." I begin to witter on about the Pinochet precedent, and Kate snaps, "Treating Don Rumsfeld like Pinochet is disgusting." Egg Man pounds his fist on the table: " Treating Pinochet like that is disgusting. Pinochet is a hero. He saved Chile."

"Exactly," adds Jim. "And he privatised social security."

The table nods solemnly and then they march into the conversation – the billion-strong swarm of swarthy Muslims who are poised to take over the world. Jim leans forward and says, "When I see these football supporters from England, I think – these guys aren't going to be told by PC elites to be nice to Muslims. You're going to get fascists rising up, aren't you? Why isn't that happening already?" Before I can answer, he is conquering the Middle East from his table, from behind a crème brûlée.

"The civilised countries should invade all the oil-owning places in the Middle East and run them properly. We won't take the money ourselves, but we'll manage it so the money isn't going to terrorists."

The idea that Europe is being "taken over" by Muslims is the unifying theme of this cruise. Some people go on singles cruises. Some go on ballroom dancing cruises. This is the "The Muslims Are Coming" cruise – drinks included. Because everyone thinks it. Everyone knows it. Everyone dreams it. And the man responsible is sitting only a few tables down: Mark Steyn.

He is wearing sunglasses on top of his head and a bright, bright shirt that fits the image of the disk jockey he once was. Sitting in this sea of grey, it has an odd effect – he looks like a pimp inexplicably hanging out with the apostles of colostomy conservatism.

Steyn's thesis in his new book, America Alone, is simple: The "European races" i.e., white people – "are too self-absorbed to breed," but the Muslims are multiplying quickly. The inevitable result will be " large-scale evacuation operations circa 2015" as Europe is ceded to al Qaeda and "Greater France remorselessly evolve[s] into Greater Bosnia."

He offers a light smearing of dubious demographic figures – he needs to turn 20 million European Muslims into more than 150 million in nine years, which is a lot of humping.

But facts, figures, and doubt are not on the itinerary of this cruise. With one or two exceptions, the passengers discuss "the Muslims" as a homogenous, sharia-seeking block – already with near-total control of Europe. Over the week, I am asked nine times – I counted – when I am fleeing Europe's encroaching Muslim population for the safety of the United States of America.

At one of the seminars, a panelist says anti-Americanism comes from both directions in a grasping pincer movement – "The Muslims condemn us for being decadent; the Europeans condemn us for not being decadent enough." Midge Decter, Norman Podhoretz's wife, yells, "The Muslims are right, the Europeans are wrong!" And, instantly, Jay Nordlinger, National Review's managing editor and the panel's chair, says, " I'm afraid a lot of the Europeans are Muslim, Midge."

The audience cheers. Somebody shouts, "You tell 'em, Jay!" He tells 'em. Decter tells 'em. Steyn tells 'em.

On this cruise, everyone tells 'em – and, thanks to my European passport, tells me.

V. From cruise to cruise missiles?

I am back in the docks of San Diego watching these tireless champions of the overdog filter past and say their starchy, formal goodbyes. As Bernard Lewis disappears onto the horizon, I wonder about the connections between this cruise and the cruise missiles fired half a world away.

I spot the old lady from the sea looking for her suitcase, and stop to tell her I may have found a solution to her political worries about both Muslims and stem-cells.

"Couldn't they just do experiments on Muslim stem-cells?" I ask. " Hey – that's a great idea!" she laughs, and vanishes. Hillary-Ann stops to say she is definitely going on the next National Review cruise, to Alaska. "Perfect!" I yell, finally losing my mind.

"You can drill it as you go!" She puts her arms around me and says very sweetly, "We need you on every cruise."

As I turn my back on the ship for the last time, the Judge I met on my first night places his arm affectionately on my shoulder. "We have written off Britain to the Muslims," he says. "Come to America."

A version of this article has appeared in 'The New Republic' (www.tnr.org)


http://news.independent.co.uk/world/americas/article2766040.ece