Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Cheney: The Man Behind the Curtain

Cheney's recent high profile adventures and comments do not appear to be working in his favor. The media is beginning to nail Cheney for some of his nonsense. Remember all the bizarre stories we've heard over the last six years that are by anonymous sources high in the administration? Editor & Publisher has an AP story on one possible source:
So who are those "senior administration officials" you hear quoted in the media?

Sometimes they're VERY senior administration officials.

Take the person who briefed reporters aboard Vice President Cheney's plane after his secret stay in Afghanistan. He didn't want his name used when he talked to reporters, but he kept using the words "I" and "me" as he referred to Cheney and to the reason for the vice president's visit.

It makes it hard to quote Cheney if reporters have to recast quotes in fictional form (I know, I know, there are accepted conventions for this sort of thing, but when anonymous sources are abusing the process to float politically convenient fictions or to out CIA operatives to exact revenge, journalists and editors need to acknowledge they're being used).

Editor & Publisher also has an item on Bob Woodward and his thoughts on journalism:
Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward said Wednesday that journalists in the U.S. should have been more aggressive in their reporting during the buildup to the Iraq War, according to the Agence France Presse wire service.

Speaking at a conference in Tokyo, the journalist who broke the Watergate scandal reportedly said that the media should have done more to verify claims that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

Woodward means well and certainly has caught up to events to some extent but he goes on to say that reporting on the ground was probably necessary (in Iraq) and that the story might have taken years to properly investigate. Actually, there were red flags stretching all the way from June 2002 to the invasion in March 2003. There were reporters, particularly of the Knight Ridder Washington Bureau (now McClatchy), who were doing stories that seriously challenged administration claims, but many big-name reporters (Woodward included) didn't follow up on those developments. And of course, it would have been useful at the time to know which high level administration figures were doing such heavy-handed spinning and whether indeed there was any reality to their claims. But at this late date, we do know one thing for certain: Cheney's calculated habits of political expediency have done enormous damage to our democracy, our national security and our nation.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Incompetent and Deceptive Mr. Cheney

Vice President Dick Cheney is discovering the hard way that you can't run away from your problems by taking trips overseas that probably should be handled, in any case, by the State Department. Or, at the very minimum, by someone with credibility (63% of Americans no longer trust Bush—or Cheney, for that matter—on intelligence issues).

The jury for the Scooter Libby trial is still deliberating and could conceivably refuse to convict Scooter Libby of perjury and obstruction of justice despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Money can buy favorable legal results in this country. We've seen that many times now in the last fifteen years. There's speculation that Scooter Libby might have won his case during jury selection, with the help of an expensive gimmick used by some lawyers who employ jury experts who know how to get a jury that has good odds of reaching a not guilty verdict, or, at the very least, a hung decision. That's not justice at work. It's good old fashioned money at work. We don't know yet if the gimmick will work or not, but the longer the jury deliberates, the better it is for the defense.

The problem for Dick Cheney is that nobody is fooled: he's a liar, a political manipulator and an incompetent. Dick Cheney used Scooter Libby to out covert CIA operative Valerie Plame and we know it. Washington is not a comfortable place for Dick Cheney these days. Too many of his fiascos are coming out. But his belligerence and arrogance continues as we hear in this story from ABC News:
Pelosi called Cheney's words "beneath the dignity of the debate we're engaged in and a disservice to our men and women in uniform, whom we all support."

But Cheney is holding firm on his original comments.

"I am not sure what part of it that Nancy disagreed with," Cheney told ABC News during an interview today in Sydney, Australia. "She accused me of questioning her patriotism. I didn't question her patriotism, I questioned her judgment."

Cheney said: "The point I made, and I'll make it again, is that al Qaeda functions on the basis that they think they can break our will. That's their fundamental underlying strategy, that if they can kill enough Americans or cause enough havoc, create enough chaos in Iraq, then we'll quit and go home."

If Dick Cheney knows so much about al Qaida, then where was the Bush Administration in the months before 9/11? Where was Dick Cheney when the outgoing Clinton Administration warned officials of the incoming Bush Administration? Where was Dick Cheney when it was obvious there was no significant al Qaida connection when we invaded Iraq in 2003?

Cheney's blunders and deceptions are endless but let's look again at a critical assertion he made in the quote above and that he has made before and think about it carefully. In the above statement, Cheney says: " Qaeda functions on the basis that they think they can break our will." Stop the presses. Think a moment. In late 2001, we had al Qaida on the ropes. It was the United States that was breaking the will of al Qaida. Let's not slip over that point. I'll repeat it again: in late 2001, we had al Qaida on the ropes. It was the United States that was breaking the will of al Qaida.

And then Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld got bored with Afghanistan. It wasn't a big enough war for them. They were obsessed with Iraq and were flummoxed when they couldn't make a credible case for war. So they made something up, inserted those sixteen words, and fixed the evidence around a reckless policy and left the war in Afghanistan behind on the back burner. Five years of blunders, incompetence and arrogance on the part of Cheney, Bush and Rumsfeld put us at risk of pulling defeat from the jaws of victory. And Cheney wants to compound the error by starting a war with Iran, or tricking Iran into starting that war, or whatever nonsense he has in mind that he hasn't bothered to tell us. What the Bush Administration should be doing is working on a regional settlement that can only come if we talk with all the neighbors, including Syria and Iran.

Democrats have repeatedly called for finishing the job in Afghanistan. Several Republicans Bush and Cheney have chosen to ignore have also called for properly finishing the job in Afghanistan. Various foreign policy experts have warned that putting al Qaida on the back burner was a serious strategic mistake.

Well, this is where we are: Dick Cheney has no credibililty. George W. Bush has no credibility. You will not gain the needed credibility by attacking your critics who have done little more than point out world class strategic blunders that can not go on unaddressed. Whatever imperial games, or neoconservative games, or oil games that the Bush inner circle has been engaging in for the past few years no longer have any credible chance of reaching a reasonable result that will do most Americans any good. From now on, rebuilding our foreign policy, reestablishing our credibility, repairing our military, winding down in Iraq while we do what we can to stabilize the region with talks and political settlements, and finishing the job in Afghanistan are the only goals the Bush Administration should be pursuing. And it is the obligation of Congress, a co-equal branch of government, to keep the Bush inner circle from dragging us into any further adventures. Bush's presidency is over. And Dick Cheney should do the decent thing and resign.

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Monday, February 26, 2007

Anna Nicole Smith: The Real Mystery

I haven't counted the number of channels we have on TV. Let's say there's about fifty. At least twenty of them at some point during the day are covering stories about Anna Nicole Smith. To be honest, there isn't much on the other thirty channels so I've been reading a lot lately when I'm not working on Donkey Path. My wife, on the other hand, has been determined at times to find something watchable, anything but Anna Nicole Smith, which means I subliminally hear some part of Anna Nicole Smith's name about thirty or forty times almost every evening as the channels fly by. It's like when President Bush gives a major speech: you surf through twenty channels and Bush is still telling us to trust him and how hard his job is and, for the thirteenth time, how victory is just around the corner.

You figure the networks and cable news people have been showing a lot of Anna Nicole Smith because they make money on the story. Or do they? Here's a survey from the Rasmussen Report:
Americans have had enough—more than enough—of news stories about Anna Nicole Smith. A Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that 85% of American adults believe the media has paid too much attention to the story of her death. Just 2% think more coverage is appropriate.

Either a lot of people are lying to the pollsters or the media is working hard to avoid bringing us the news. And thanks to the coverage, poor Anna Nicole Smith is more famous than ever. It's a real mystery that leaving a lot of people scratching their heads.

That's America on February 26, 2007. Have a good night.

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Frank Rich on Al Qaida

Iraq didn't have a nuclear program worthy of the name but we attacked anyway. We attacked and Iran decided it might be time to at least pretend to have a nuclear program. We haven't attacked them yet but Cheney is thinking about it while Bush.... handles public relations?

The organization that attacked us on 9/11 was al Qaida, led by Osama bin Laden, all of whom were largely in Afghanistan at the time. Osama bin Laden escaped. Into Pakistan. Which has nuclear weapons. Which has a military that may not be totally loyal to President Musharraf. Afghanistan, which seemed to be a winnable war back in late 2001, has been dangerously neglected. The Taliban is threatening to make headway again. Al Qaida, in the meantime, seems to be growing strong again by basing itself across the Afghan border in the Northwest Territories of Pakistan, where the Pakistani military refuses to go. And Bush and Cheney are digging a hole in Iraq debating whether to support the Sunnis or the Shiites or some secular coalition that exists only in their imagination. We have a problem.

Frank Rich of The New York Times has an article on the serious potential threat of a regrouped al Qaida (via Truthout):
The White House doesn't want to hear it.... That's why terrorism experts are trying to get its attention by going public, and not just through The Times. Michael Scheuer, the former head of the C.I.A. bin Laden unit, told MSNBC's Keith Olbermann last week that the Taliban and Al Qaeda, having regrouped in Afghanistan and Pakistan, "are going to detonate a nuclear device inside the United States" ... Al Qaeda is "on the march" rather than on the run, the Georgetown University and West Point terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman told Congress. Tony Blair is pulling troops out of Iraq not because Basra is calm enough to be entrusted to Iraqi forces - it's "not ready for transition," according to the Pentagon's last report - but to shift some British resources to the losing battle against the resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan.

This is why the entire debate about the Iraq "surge" is as much a sideshow as Britney's scalp. More troops in Baghdad are irrelevant to what's going down in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The surge supporters who accuse the Iraq war's critics of emboldening the enemy are trying to deflect attention from their own complicity in losing a bigger battle: the one against the enemy that actually did attack us on 9/11. Who lost Iraq? is but a distraction from the more damning question, Who is losing the war on terrorism?

The record so far suggests that this White House has done so twice. The first defeat, of course, began in early December 2001, when we lost Osama bin Laden in Tora Bora. The public would not learn about that failure until April 2002 (when it was uncovered by The Washington Post), but it's revealing that the administration started its bait-and-switch trick to relocate the enemy in Iraq just as bin Laden slipped away. ...


... It is precisely by pouring still more of our finite military and intelligence resources down the drain in Iraq that we are tragically ignoring the lessons of 9/11. Instead of showing resolve, as Mr. Bush supposes, his botch of the Iraq war has revealed American weakness. Our catastrophic occupation spawned terrorists in a country where they didn't used to be, and to pretend that Iraq is now their central front only adds to the disaster. As Mr. Scheuer, the former C.I.A. official, reiterated last week: "Al Qaeda is in Afghanistan and Pakistan. If you want to address the threat to America, that's where it is." It's typical of Mr. Bush's self-righteousness, however, that he would rather punt on that threat than own up to a mistake.

That mistake - dropping the ball on Al Qaeda - was compounded last fall when Mr. Bush committed his second major blunder in the war on terror. The occasion was the September revelation that our supposed ally, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, president of Pakistan, had negotiated a "truce" with the Taliban in North Waziristan, a tribal region in his country at the Afghanistan border. This truce was actually a retreat by Pakistan, which even released Qaeda prisoners in its custody. Yet the Bush White House denied any of this was happening. ...

I'm not sure what to make of Scheuer's statements, but there is this to consider: Bush and Cheney have bluffed and lied and bluffed again so often in the last five years that they can't even keep track of the consequences and permutations anymore. In foreign policy, you don't bluff unless you know exactly what you're doing; that does not describe George W. Bush or Dick Cheney this late in the day. Some potentially dangerous bluffs have been called. I won't say which ones though some of the more obvious ones are apparent to most people. The incompetence and ideological recklessness of Bush and Cheney is clearly endangering the United States.

We have a choice: we either regroup and begin serious talks with our enemies and friends in the Middle East or we drift into wider wars necessitating a draft and the neglect of any real future for years to come. Bush and Cheney, as things now stand, are on a slippery slope that may lead to a greater disaster of their own making in two or three trouble spots in the Middle East. And they have neglected al Qaida, to our nation's peril. Bush and Cheney have shown us how not to fight the 'war on terror.'

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Bush and Cheney's Foreign Policy: Oops!

According to Sy Hersh's article in the New Yorker (here's a copy in Truthout), it is hard not to draw the conclusion that the Bush Administration is:

1) No longer working hard to create a democracy in Iraq.

2) Somewhat reluctant as things now stand to turn Iraq over to the Shiites, the majority in Iraq. This is largely because of the administration's paranoia about Iran, a Shiite country. It should be noted that the Bush Administration has made no serious effort to engage in real talks with the Iranians, though both sides have been guilty of unhelpful posturing.

3) Funding Sunni organizations in Iraq (and elsewhere for that matter) despite the fact that most American casualties in Iraq were caused by Sunnis, many of them leftovers from the Saddam Hussein regime.

4) Allowing the Saudis to fund Sunni organizations that fund other organizations with ties to al Qaida, the organization that is responsible for the 9/11 attack. Let us remember that the Saudis, although our allies, were never open about how so much funding went to al Qaida in the first place.

5) Hiding money and covert activities from Congress.

6) Insisting they have no intention of going to war with Iran but creating conditions that may make war with Iran more likely.

Oh, one other thing: Bush and Cheney have absolutely no idea what they're doing. Except that it seems to have dawned on them that they're creating a bigger mess in the Middle East and there is the potential of a regional conflict with Shiites and Sunnis, courtesy of the mess that Bush and Cheney have created. Bottom line: the damage they are doing to America's national security is worse than we thought. And in many ways they are working hard to kick the can down the road for the next president rather doing what they need to do to start cleaning up the mess in ways that are meaningful.

We need to get Bush and Cheney out of foreign policy business now rather than two years from now. Congress knows what it has to do and Republicans better start jumping aboard.

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Stepping Deeper into the Quagmire

In Iraq, the Sunnis are already mad at the United States. Now Bush is working on getting the Shiites mad at us; here's the AP story by Robert H. Reid in the Houston Chronicle:
Thousands of Shiites on Saturday protested the U.S. detention of the son of Iraq's most powerful Shiite politician, and the country's Kurdish president deplored the "uncivilized" behavior of the American soldiers responsible.

The real message of the demonstrations: Don't push the Shiites too far either over concessions to the Sunnis or ties to Iran.

Having 80% of the Iraqis mad at us is not a good idea. Oh, wait a minute, the Kurds have something to say too, according to the same AP story:
President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd and longtime ally of al-Hakim's father, deplored the Americans' "uncivilized and inappropriate" behavior and demanded punishment for those responsible.
It's becoming hard to find anyone in Iraq who isn't mad at us. Part of the problem is that we don't know the culture, the religious issues, the ethnic groups, the tribes, the factions and the shifting political loyalties. And we're not just in a civil war but a civil war with multiple factions. Juan Cole of Informed Comment has some thoughts on the arrest of the eldest son of Aziz al-Hakim; here's the beginning but read his whole post to get a feel of the conflicting stories circulating:
The US has released Ammar al-Hakim and US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad apologized profusely for his arrest. The US military is giving three reasons for his arrest: He entered Iraq at a closed border station, his passport was expired, and his party was armed to the teeth. In fact, however, his passport was valid until September 17, 2007, and nobody travels overland in Iraq without being armed. It is most likely that the US doesn't want Shiite leaders slipping over to Iran in this way, because it is trying to reduce Iranian influence with US allies in Iraq. That is, al-Hakim's offense was probably his trip itself, though that cannot be admitted by Washington.

One of the stories mentioned by Cole is that the military may have thought that they were going to capture Muqtada Sadr. Maybe it's just as well they didn't. They probably would have a half million Shiites rioting by now. We're not just in a quagmire but in a dangerous situation with multiple plausible explanations for any event and multiple possible triggers for real trouble. It is not politics to say that our presence itself is becoming the biggest problem in Iraq; we're not trusted and we're in the middle of a deadly family quarrel in a land we don't know well. No one can expect rigid ideologues like Bush and Cheney to sort through such a mess.

Now, for the sake of balance, let me point out that not everything out of Iraq is bleak. A couple of days ago we discovered a bomb making factory in Fallujah (different spelling in the story below for Fallujah; it's not easy to keep up with the multiple English spellings of Arabic words); here's the story from Peter Spiegel of tghe Los Angeles Times:
U.S. troops in Iraq uncovered a "car bomb factory" near Fallouja this week that contained multiple canisters of chlorine, a potentially lethal gas that has been used in three insurgent attacks over the last month, a top U.S. official in Baghdad told reporters Thursday.

Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the Army commander responsible for day-to-day military operations in Iraq, said the Tuesday night raid outside the city west of Baghdad netted a wide array of munitions and three vehicles that were apparently being readied as car bombs at the compound, in addition to the chlorine cylinders.

This is the kind of operation that should have been taking place more regularly three years ago when it would have been far more useful. These operations are only possible with intelligence in cooperation with the Iraqi government (and not by way of Abu Ghraib which only produces blowback). It's very late in the day for this kind of stuff but it may take a series of successful operations like it to make it easier to start drawing down with the purpose of disengaging from a conflict that isn't doing a thing for us and is already damaging us in multiple ways. The single most important reason we need to start disengaging is the risk that incompetent and arrogant people like Bush and Cheney will drag us into a deeper and far more dangerous conflict. Make no mistake: we're in deeper than we were a year ago.

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Cheney Turns Up the Arrogance

Cakewalk Cheney is trying to change the subject as the jurors continue to deliberate in the Scooter Libby trial (if anyone has doubts about what the issues are, see Why the Libby Trial Matters). Despite working secretly behind the curtain, Cheney's arrogance has been plain for all to see. I still recall on 9/11 when Cheney was challenged on his authority to tell Congress what to do, he said, "We have the helicopters." That's the kind of statement that invokes images of coups and not the kind of statement that respects three co-equal branches of government. There have been periods when Cheney has watched the tone of his statements, but in recent weeks, he clearly has turned up his arrogant rhetoric as the Libby trial got underway and as it becomes increasingly clear what a failure the Bush presidency is.

The International Herald Tribune has a Reuters story on one of Cheney's latest broadsides:
The U.S. vice president, Dick Cheney, expressed concerns Friday about China's military buildup, and he also questioned whether North Korea would follow through on its commitments in a recent nuclear deal.

In a speech in Sydney, Cheney also stressed the importance of U.S. forces' remaining in Iraq to stop "jihadists" gaining a base from which to spread violence across the Middle East.


"The notion that free countries can turn our backs on what happens in places like Afghanistan or Iraq or any other possible safe haven for terrorists is an option that we simply cannot indulge," Cheney said in his speech.

I'm dumbfounded that Cheney would complain that some would turn their back on Afghanistan. That's exactly what the Bush Administration did as it turned to Iraq and gave us a war we did not need and let Osama bin Laden slip away while events in Afghanistan started sliding downhill. The inner circle of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld considered Afghanistan too small for their enterprise and put Afghanistan on the back burner to pursue a more ambitious and radical agenda that has done nothing for the United States except damage our country and our position in the world. Anyone who thinks the removal of Saddam Hussein was worth $2 trillion and the deaths that have resulted and the enormous damage done to our reputation and credibility is a fool, but Cheney thinks it was worth it. That's the nature of right wing authoritarians: they are usually the last to admit they were wrong. The reality is that Cheney's priorities are different than mine and different than those of most Americans.

And look at his arrogance towards the Chinese. We are the most powerful nation in the world but there are limits to our power and clearly Cheney and Bush are not doing such a hot job in Iraq. When you don't have much credibility, serious talks with our economic partners, as the Chinese clearly are, would be what's called for if there are issues to clear up. Instead, Cheney's arrogant posturing is not useful and simply reminds everyone of his poor judgment. Here's what James Fallows has to say in The Huffington Post:
What is clear is that the worst-positioned person to scold China about its behavior is the one who just did: Vice President Dick Cheney. In his speech yesterday in Australia, the Vice President helpfully observed that the satellite test, plus the buildup of China's military (with a budget still a tiny fraction of America's) was "not consistent with China's stated goal of a peaceful rise."

Let's assume, for argument, that China intends to convert its growing economic power into military strength. Let's assume that its strategic and territorial ambitions are at odds with America's. Let's assume that it intends to upset the international order in countless ways. Let's assume a lot of other things that I don't think are true.

Even if all those things were true, there could be no less effective spokesman for American concern or for the interests of international order than Cheney. This is the man who has refused to answer to his own public for -- well, for anything. For his insistence that everything has gone just as planned in Iraq. For his claim before the war that "There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction." For his claim after the war that the Iraqi insurgency was in its "last throes." For his role, as described in prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's closing statement, as the central, unindicted malefactor in the Scooter Libby case. Even for shooting his friend in the face. ...

Dick Cheney, the man who is accountable for nothing, is the person who will tell other countries what is "consistent" with a peaceful image in the world?

If you haven't spent a lot of time outside the United States recently, you may not been made aware in a painful, humiliating way of how grievously America's moral standing has suffered because of Guantanamo, Abu Grahib, and the general carnage in Iraq. It's hard in general to get non-Americans to listen to lectures about seemly behavior these days. It's hardest of all when the lectures come from the man who, to the rest of the world, personifies America's squandering of the qualities that made it special.

It's been obvious for some time that the blunders by Bush and Cheney make it impossible for the United States to have much credibility when talking to other nations about any number of issues but particularly human rights. Any number of countries are still violating basic human rights and their answer to Bush or Cheney is very blunt and summed in two words: Abu Ghraib.

Did I mention that the Russians are concerned that we're in an arms race and that Stephen Hadley is having to ease their concerns? The most useful thing Dick Cheney can do for the American people is resign.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

America's Lunatic Far Right Wants Third War

Advice: just as a precaution, it would not be a bad move to keep a full gas tank for the next few weeks. War is not inevitable but the recklessness of the far right continues and the Republicans in Congress are still playing rubber stamp to Bush and Cheney's fear mongering. Bush has already committed the greatest strategic failure in American history with his war in Iraq. The war in Iraq will become the second greatest strategic failure if Bush launches a war with Iran. These guys have no end game. Let me repeat that: George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have no end game. Americans need to understand that. The media needs to understand that and a few voices are finally beginning to speak up. Already there are Republicans who are breaking ranks in Congress. More Republicans need to follow.

Think Progress has the story on right wingers aiding and abetting the possible extension of the Bush/Cheney foreign policy fiasco:
McClatchy [Mercury News]: “‘I still believe, at the end of the day, that he will bomb the Iranian (nuclear) facilities,’ said Joshua Muravchik, a neoconservative scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank with close ties to the Bush administration.

Think Progress also quotes Rush Limbaugh who claims Americans will cheer the beginning of Bush's third war. This American will not be cheering. Bush and Cheney have no concrete accomplishments to their name in the last six years and yet their friends are urging them to compound their blunders with more war. Properly speaking, such a war would call for impeachment. With or without a third war, impeachment is not going to happen any time soon. Given that we can't call back the missiles once they're launched, I would settle for Congress immediately restricting the war powers of these two very reckless and very arrogant right wing politicians with their imperial pretensions. Congress has the authority. It's time for the adults to step forward.

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British Military Overstretched

Thanks to mishandling by Bush, Cheney and the fired Rumsfeld, we are at risk of losing two wars, one in Afghanistan and one in Iraq. Dick Cheney seems to be itching for a third war, this one with Iran, without bothering to engage in serious diplomacy. The Bush Administration and its neoconservative allies never understood the job, the Iraqi people or the military requirements. Clearly, we never sent enough troops to stabilize Iraq and we put Afghanistan on the back burner far longer than we should have instead of finishing the job. I have said this any number of times.

Cheney is being fraudelent when he says the war is going so well that the British can send troops home. If Bush is to have any chance of getting his foreign policy under control, he needs to urge Cheney to resign or, at the very least, cut back the vice president's portfolio so that he'll no longer create problems with his strange right wing ideology. The British are now in a position where they essentially are overstretched. Here's the story from Kim Murphy of the Los Angeles Times:
Britain's decision to pull 1,600 troops out of Iraq by spring, touted by U.S. and British leaders as a turning point in Iraqi sovereignty, was widely seen Wednesday as a telling admission that the British military could no longer sustain simultaneous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The British military is approaching "operational failure," former defense staff chief Charles Guthrie warned this week.

"Because the British army is in essence fighting a far more intensive counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan, there's been a realization that there has to be some sort of transfer of resources from Iraq to Afghanistan," said Clive Jones, a senior lecturer in Middle East politics at the University of Leeds, who has closely followed Britain's Iraq deployment.

"It's either that, or you risk in some ways losing both," he said. "It's the classic case of 'Let's declare victory and get out.' "

What is happening to the British is exactly what a number of American generals have warned could happen to us. In Iraq, we don't have enough people, we don't have enough equipment, training is seriously beginning to slip and we have people in the Bush Administration who still don't know what they're doing. The reality is that the United States never fully mobilized for the war Dick Cheney and George W. Bush had in mind; the job of civilians, apparently, was to go about their business and, by the way, go shopping.

Even if we manage to stabilize Iraq and Bush calls that a victory, we have lost far more than anything we have gained. There have been some calls lately to make sure the job in Afghanistan is finished. Al Qaida is making a comeback along the Pakistan/Afghanistan border. It's time to get out of the middle of a civil war in Iraq, leave forces nearby and concentrate on finishing the neglected job in Afghanistan.

Note: The LA Times article has a mildly misleading graph from the Brookings Institute. It gives the impression there were fewer coalition forces in Iraq in 2003 than there actually were, though by the end of 2003, coalition forces had dropped considerably in numbers. It should be noted that the British alone had at least 40,000 troops in Iraq at the beginning of the war.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Why the Libby Trial Matters

The Libby trial is important in ways that the Washington media has avoided to some extent. It is first of all about a corrupt process that led to war, an unncessary war, and then later led to lies, specific lies, by Scooter Libby that are the reasons he is on trial. The smearing of Joe Wilson was designed to hide a corrupt process and, in some respects, what was done by outing Valerie Plame/Wilson has succeeded largely because of the second element that the Libby trial exposes: the complicity of the mainstream press in furthering the aims of the Bush Administration.

What I have said in my first paragraph should not be controversial. Not after everything that has come out in the Scooter Libby trial and elsewhere. But the media and the American public still have a long ways to go to understand what a catastrophe and what a crooked little operation the Bush presidency has been for the last six years and how Congress, particularly under the Republicans, has been subverted far more than at any time since the 1920s. It's worse than that though. It's been obvious for more than 25 years that the media has slowly been falling down on the job and that the Republican Noise Machine has done an effective job of allowing our institutions to erode and to be corrupted even more than usual, far more than usual, over the last twenty-five years, inch by inch by inch.

The American economy is a powerful engine. That is largely a blessing but having such a powerful economy can obscure the growing rot in our corporations, our system of entrenched privilige, and even the manner in which a wink and nod is given to all kinds of behavior that ought not to be accepted (tobacco companies, to mention just one example of many, just won a case based on a ruling that is designed to do nothing more than protect the powerful even when they are quite clearly wrong). I believe in competition and a reasonable free enterprise: it is a shame that too many powerful people do not—they prefer a system that is rigged. And that rigging has been steadily damaging our nation and our future for a number of years now, though George W. Bush and his friends have clearly accelerated the process.

I believe in a government that can help us achieve common aims, that works for the common good, that has a capacity at times to solve problems and I believe that there have been times our government has been able to find very competent people to make sure things get done. However, for more than twenty-five years, we have had people consciously work to undermine, inhibit, obstruct and obscure the effectiveness and even the knowledge that the government needs to function reasonably well. Our government, even in the best of times, is not perfect and it is important to have multiple agencies literally compete with one another to show who can do the best job. Private industry, as run by Republicans, does not qualify though there is no good reason why an honest business can't perform some functions that government would otherwise perform. But outsourcing and privatization in the hands of Republicans and even some Democrats is just an excuse to scam the taxpayer. We have seen and still see it in Iraq. We saw it after Hurricane Katrina, even to the point that the people devastated by the hurricane were just an afterthought while others used the occassion to make obscene profits.

We have a problem in our nation, and the mainstream is no longer the bright shining light on the nation's rot that it once was. Sure, the media has lights, bright lights to scatter on the trivial and to flash back and forth on things irrelevant while more crucial matters remain unknown and unexposed. Sure, the media on occassion does shine a flickering and wavering light on our nation's problems and then it becomes painfully clear most reporters doing those stories barely understand what it is they are covering. There are exceptions but not often.

I'm far from where I began: the Libby trial. Let me quote from Dan Froomkin of White House Watch:
"What is this case about?" special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald asked in his rebuttal to the defense's closing arguments yesterday in the Scooter Libby perjury trial.

"Is it about something bigger?"

And while Fitzgerald never directly answered that second question, he at long last made it quite clear that the depth of Vice President Cheney's role in the leaking of the identity of a CIA operative is one of the central mysteries that Libby's alleged lies prevented investigators from resolving.

"There is a cloud over the vice president . . . And that cloud remains because this defendant obstructed justice," Fitzgerald said.

"There is a cloud over the White House. Don't you think the FBI and the grand jury and the American people are entitled to straight answers?" Fitzgerald asked the jury.

Libby, Fitzgerald continued, "stole the truth from the justice system."

After literally years of keeping his public pronouncements about the case to an absolute minimum, Fitzgerald yesterday finally let slip a bit of the speculation that many of us have long suspected has lurked just beneath the surface of his investigation.

Suddenly it wasn't just the defendant alone, it was "they" who decided to tell reporters about Wilson's wife working for the CIA. "To them," Fitzgerald said, "she wasn't a person, she was an argument."

Valerie Plame was serving her country and the Bush Administration used her to cover up a lie. And they destroyed her career.

There are people in Washington who don't take the American people seriously. They take their privileged friends seriously—and their wealth, they want to be part of the supposed movers and shakers of our society, or even just part of those who hold the conventional wisdom and are in the know when they roast one another on those lame C-Span shows.

Admittedly, there are some, a different crowd, particularly right wing ideologues, who focus their hate and rage on particular groups, maybe because they believe in their rage, maybe because the rage is profitable and good for votes. And that too is evidence that people in Washington can't see 300 million individuals, who according to the US Constitution, are the people and therefore, the government, the nation, and the real source of America's strength and greatness. Ordinary Americans are not abstractions. Very capable people like Valerie Plame are not abstractions. The 300 million people in these United States are real. Not lives to be ruined. Not people to be ignored because they aren't campaign contributors. Not 'resources' for corporate cronies to exploit. Not honorees for a feel good speech that covers up a cynical do-nothing policy.

It's time for the American people to be heard again. It won't be the first time or even the second time that Americans have needed to renew their country and have done so. But the time has come. Whether Cheney's aide, Scooter Libby, is convicted or not, the time has come.

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Three Items from Washington

Sometimes I look at the news and I wonder what I'm supposed to say. A Republican campaign donor appears to have also donated money to al Qaida? McCain says he 'knew' all along how difficult the war in Iraq would be but there are several recording from before the war where he said the thing would be done in short order? Helen Thomas loses her front row seat at the White House press room as some kind of cheap political payback? Bush defends Rumsfeld after all we have learned about his arrogance and incompetence? The Republican Party has nothing to offer these days and the Bush Administration is a train wreck—I feel funny some days pointing out the obvious.

So here's some quick news on Democrats. First, The Raw Story has an article from Yahoo News that Senator Tim Johnson is leaving the hospital to continue his rehab elsewhere. He continues to show progress from his brain surgery last December and is doing more Senate work. We continue to wish him well.

The McClatchy Washington Bureau has a story on new Congressman Joe Sestak (D-PA), a former admiral who is calling for a complete withdrawal from Iraq and has a few words about Bush's foreign policy:
...the war in Iraq is hurting American national security: It's diverted resources and attention from the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan and from other challenges to U.S. interests around the world.

"We diverted our attention, our resources and our forces ... to Iraq," he said. "To my mind Afghanistan is the poster child for what isn't being done in this world where the real war on terrorism is elsewhere, not Iraq."


Spending on the war also has diverted investment from what he calls three "pillars of national security": health, education and economic development at home.

I appreciate what Sestak is saying about withdrawing from Iraq though I'm sure a more sophisticated withdrawal plan can be put together than the one he suggests. But he's absolutely right that Bush's war in Iraq is hurting our national security.

Finally, Senator Ted Kennedy has a column on The Huffington Post about Abu Ghraib:
These images are seared into our national conscience. The reports of widespread abuse by U.S. personnel were initially met with disbelief, then incomprehension. They stand in sharp contrast to the ideals America has always stood for: our belief in the dignity and worth of all people, our unequivocal rejection of torture and abuse, our commitment to the rule of law. The images horrified us, and severely damaged America's reputation in the Middle East and around the world, and made the war on terrorism harder to win.

It may well be the steepest and deepest fall from grace in our history. Yet at every opportunity, the Administration has tried to minimize the problem and avoid responsibility for it.

What I appreciate is that Senator Kennedy has kept the issue alive. Abu Ghraib is one of the most profound failures by our government in our nation's history and represents only part of the picture of abuses by our government. And the mainstream media never managed to come to grips with the story. Abu Ghraib is one of the reasons why Bush's foreign policy has so little credibility throughout the world. Anything Bush says about democracy and freedom is largely cancelled by the mention of those two words: Abu Ghraib.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Allies Steadily Giving Up on Bush

The McCain Doctrine, the 'surge,' the 'augmentation,' the escalation, whatever one wants to call it, cannot mean very much if our allies continue to pull out troops. It's been a long time, for example, since Tony Blair had over 40,000 British troops in Iraq. While Blair has been drawing down, the Spanish have left, the Poles have left, the Italians have left and on it goes.

Steve Soto of The Left Coaster caught this on the news today:
The BBC and NBC are reporting at this hour that Tony Blair will be withdrawing 1500 troops from Basra within weeks, and that he wants 3000 of their 7700 troops out of Iraq by the end of 2007, if security warrants it. According to the BBC, Blair told Bush of this revised timeline just this morning.

By the end of the year, the British could have less than 5,000 troops in Iraq compared to the more than 40,000 they once had. That's a drop of 35,000 troops, considerably more than the troops that Bush is including for his 'surge.'

The British aren't the only ones among our alllies in recent weeks who are increasingly unhappy with Bush. The Japanese have been among our strongest allies but even their patience is wearing thin. Dick Cheney, of all people, has been sent to patch up the problems. Here's the story from John Brinsley of Bloomberg:
Cheney, 66, arrived in Tokyo late today, less than three weeks after Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso called U.S. policy in Iraq ``naive.'' Last month, Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma said President George W. Bush made a ``mistake'' in starting the war.

The belittling of the U.S. shows that support for the war in its closest ally in Asia is waning after Bush ordered an additional 21,500 U.S. troops to Iraq. Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who succeeded Junichiro Koizumi in September, said his cabinet was united in its support for the ``surge.''

``When the defense minister and foreign minister of one of your allies criticize your policies, you cannot reasonably interpret it as being happy with what's going on,'' said Gerald Curtis, a political science professor at Columbia University in New York specializing in U.S.-Japan relations.

The mixed message from the Japanese seems to imply that they would like to see a change in policy by their staunchest ally. It may also be a signal that the Japanese want nothing to do with a war in Iran; they are, after all, heavily dependent on oil from the Middle East. Steve Soto also suspects that Tony Blair is sending a similar message to Bush. The British and Japanese are clearly among our strongest allies. If Bush's incompetence is giving them second thoughts, that doesn't leave many people supporting Bush's failed policies. It is well past time for Republicans in Congress to join Democrats in asserting Congress as a co-equal branch and start holding the president accountable while insisting on changes that makes sense.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Sadr Probably in Iraq, Not Iran

The Bush Administration is not shy about looking for scapegoats for its own incompetence. I fully expect that any day now Bush will claim that Iran tricked him into starting a war in Iraq. In the meantime, Bush is increasingly pointing fingers at Iran to explain away four long years of White House blunders in Iraq. The Bush Administration now appears to be blaming Iran for harboring Muqtada Sadr, the troublesome Shiite cleric who has launched reprisals against Sunnis who have been attacking Shiites.

Middle East expert Juan Cole of Informed Comment points out that Sadr is probably still in Iraq:
Muqtada al-Sadr is *highly* unlikely to be in Iran.

1. The al-Sadrs, Muqtada and his father, made endless fun of the al-Hakims for fleeing Iraq to Iran under Saddam. Muqtada's claim to greater legitimacy would be undermined were he now to flee to Iran from the Americans.

2. Muqtada successfully hid out from Saddam in Kufa for 4 years. He can hide from the Americans. He has tunnels, safe houses, and trustworthy aides who won't inform on him. He also escaped this way from Najaf and the Marines in Aug. 2004.


6. Al-Hayat says he is hiding out in the southern Marshes, also plausible. The Marsh Arabs are now mostly Sadrists.

7. The story of his being in Iran has three sources: Gen. Caldwell of the US military, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, and Jalal Talabani. All have an interest in Muqtada being humiliated and undermined, and all have an interest in removing his Iraqi nationalist credentials by tying him to Iran. For al-Hakim and Talabani, both with strong Iran ties themselves, it levels the playing field. None is likely actually to know where Muqtada is.

It's worth a reminder that Sunnis have formed the backbone of the insurgency in Iraq for the last four years. Sadr is no innocent; on the other, it's ridiculous to believe the White House has any useful idea what sides to take in the Iraq civil war. In fact, the most dangerous people in Iraq could easily be the Iraqi politicians who tell Americans exactly what they want to hear. Ahmed Chalabi managed to bamboozle any number of neoconservatives with pie-in-the-sky stories about Iraq being a cake walk and Iraqis greeting us with flowers; Chalabi, who spends most of his time in London despite still having a hand in the Iraq government, has done financially very well by telling American right wingers fairy tales about turning Iraq into a secular democracy that would recognize Israel.

We really do need to get out of the mess Bush has made. And of course the McCain Doctrine is not helping matters. The real problem, of course, is that we cannot trust Bush's word or his competence and he has no business expanding the war.

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Harry Reid Slams Bush's Foreign Policy

A growing number of foreign policy experts (Brzezinski comes to mind) call Bush's war in Iraq the greatest strategic blunder in American history; one of the reasons for the assessment is the enormous credibility that the United States has lost in the last four years, particularly when it comes to our word, thus making it difficult for us to accomplish things in other areas of our foreign policy.

Now Democrats in the leadership are finally speaking up and stating the obvious in more explicit terms. CNN, unwilling as usual to recognize the obvious, nevertheless covers what Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has to say:
After months of heated rhetoric slamming President Bush's Iraq policy, the Senate's top Democrat moved into new terrain by declaring the Iraq war a worse blunder than Vietnam.

"This war is a serious situation. It involves the worst foreign policy mistake in the history of this country," Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada, told CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer."

"So we should take everything seriously. We find ourselves in a very deep hole and we need to find a way to dig out of it."

Asked whether he considers it a worse blunder than Vietnam, Reid responded, "Yes."

Most Americans are only now beginning to understand that, in Iraq, Bush led us into a war we did not need. Unfortunately, perhaps because of the mainstream media's sluggishness in covering critical issues of the day, most Americans still do not fully understand that Bush's incompetence and recklessness could lead us into yet another war we do not need, this one with Iran.

In fact, most Americans still do not understand that Bush passed up at least two opportunities for negotiations with Iran; also, the diplomatic effort launched by Condi Rice last year isn't much of a diplomatic effort and pales when compared with real diplomatic efforts of the past. And more Americans need to know that the same right wingers urging war with Iran are very often the same right wingers who years ago sneered at diplomacy with our enemies and sought major war with the Soviet Union. We won the Cold War without a nuclear exchange or an all-out conventional war because we had a chain of reasonably able people in Washington, sometimes conservative, sometimes liberal, who didn't pay much attention to the right wing fringe; our foreign policy wasn't perfect, but these able people engaged in serious and effective diplomacy and often ran a reasonably smart foreign policy far superior to anything we have seen from the neoconservatives in the last six years. This is the only time the right wingers have truly been in charge of our foreign policy, and they are a proven disaster. Bush and Cheney have failed so badly that they are working overtime to blame others for their incompetence. It's a dangerous situation.

Another war is not a certainty but if Americans make it clear that we do not need another fiasco on our hands, we can make war less likely. Keeping in mind that the war in Afghanistan is now more than five years old and needs to be finished—and should have been done a long time ago—try to imagine Bush and Cheney running three wars when they obviously can't run two.

Things are changing in Washington; slowly perhaps, but they are changing. A few Republicans in Congress appear to be disassociating themselves from Bush's foreign policy. More Republicans may follow. The end of the line is in sight but Americans must continue to speak up.

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The Cold War Versus the Current Era

Republicans are moaning about how difficult things are these days. This is curious. The Bush Administration went around in circles for five years huffing and puffing on North Korea and essentially came back to the policy that existed at the end of Clinton's presidency. After 9/11, we had to deal with Afghanistan and that would have kept the Bush Administration plenty busy, but they chose to give us a war in Iraq that we didn't need. It isn't just foreign policy that is difficult for Bush; he botched the response to Hurricane Katrina and then claimed he needed a law that allowed him to call in the military which was nonsense since the real problem was an underwhelming use of the resources he had.

Kevin Drum of the Washington Monthly links to a story by Paul Kennedy in the Los Angeles Times who punctures the new mythology:
IT WAS FUNNY, in a grim sort of way. Last week, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates responded to Russian President Vladimir V. Putin's polemical attack on the United States by remembering the 50-year Cold War as a "less complex time" and saying he was "almost nostalgic" for its return.


The argument goes as follows: The Cold War, although unpleasant, was inherently stable. It was a bipolar world — centered on Washington and Moscow — and, as UC Berkeley political scientist Kenneth Waltz argued, it was much more predictable than, say, the shifting, multipolar world of the 1910s or 1930s, decades that were followed by calamitous wars. Yes, it's true that the two sides possessed masses of nuclear weapons aimed at each other's biggest cities, but the reality is that they were constrained by a mutual balance of terror.

Kennedy debunks the 'easy' days of the Cold War and properly so. On several blogs, including Donkey Path, there have been posts reminding us how disastrous it would have been, as just one example, to have had a president like George W. Bush handling something as 'predictable' as the Cuban Missile Crisis.

I don't want to minimize what's going on these days. Things are changing and we have an ideological administration with its head stuck on old ideas about the world; and some Republicans (Wolfowitz as an example) are even shocked that people in the third world aren't behaving like stereotypical natives in old Hollywood movies. In some respects, Bush has been handling the wrong problems while ignoring a wide range of issues, including genocide, human rights, labor rights, Global Warming and the need to deal with energy issues on a much broader basis. And certainly things are going on in parts of the world we don't know very well, but part of the problem is that there are too many people in our current administration (and Congress, for that matter) who don't want to know what's going on in the world, let alone learn, for example, what the difference is between Sunnis and Shiites. In the end, the problem is that the American people elected an incompetent marketing executive for president and a paranoid lever puller for vice president. We need competent people in this era who are driven more by pragmatism than ideology. We stayed out of trouble during the Cold War because by and large we did have competent people.

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Elie Wiesel's Attacker Arrested

I'm glad that Elie Wiesel's alleged attacker was caught. Here's the AP story from CNN:
A man accused of roughing up Nobel laureate and Holocaust scholar Elie Wiesel at a San Francisco hotel earlier this month was arrested Saturday, authorities said.

Montgomery Township police arrested Eric Hunt, 22, of Sussex County, New Jersey, at 1:30 p.m. ET Saturday. He faces charges that include attempted kidnapping, false imprisonment, elder abuse, stalking, battery and the commission of a hate crime, according to San Francisco police.

I've read two of Elie Wiesel's books and even met him more than twenty years ago. Actually, I've read Night three times. I read Night one time after reading Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi, the famous Italian writer. At the end of Levi's book, he talks about the choice he made to take his chances by staying behind in the camp infirmary as the Russians were overrunning Poland and driving west. Wiesel's book was somewhat novelized so he could talk about religious faith and doubt under the extreme circumstances of the Nazi concentration camps but most of it was quite factual and at the end of the book he and his father also faced the choice of whether to stay behind in the infirmary or to go on what turned out to be a forced march. The father feared execution if they stayed behind and chose to go on the march so that's what the father and son did; but the father died at the end of a deliberately brutal evacuation during wintertime. The choices made during the Holocaust were too often devastating, and beyond anything most people will ever face in their lifetime. The Nazis kept changing the rules so it was impossible to 'figure it out' and every choice could be a deadly one and too often was even when there was a small glimmer of hope.

We recently learned in the news that Anne Frank's father wanted to emigrate to the United States but was hampered by a long series of rules and bureaucratic delays by American officials until the family ran out of time and was forced to go into hiding and was eventually betrayed. Very little in my life has taught me more than the literature of the Holocaust. What you learn is that politics are real. Abstract decisions by governments can kill people for the worst of reasons. But government decisions can also save people. It's the latter that we too often forget, whether it's Hurricane Katrina, tsunami victims in Indonesia, children in Africa or many, many people in the world who deserve a better fate. It's not possible on this earth to save everyone, but inch by inch, the biggest killer in the world is becoming political indifference, the indifference of voters and the indifference of nations. That has to change.

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While Republicans Applaud, an Administration Remains in Disarray

No one should be fooled by the Republicans in the Senate. By voting down cloture, they have voted for continued war by an incompetent president and they have nothing to offer by way of getting Bush to stop digging a hole. Congress is a co-equal branch of the government and the Republicans want to do nothing more than rubber stamp the president.

Bush is doing harm to our nation. No one should doubt that. If we had not gone to Iraq and had properly finished the war in Afghanistan, our foreign policy in the hands of a competent president would have considerably more leverage than it does today. If Colin Powell—not Cheney and Rumsfeld—had dominated our foreign policy, it's possible even Bush might have come off as having a competent administration even if he still didn't have a clue what he was doing.

Remember the axis of evil image that Bush used to describe Iran, Iraq and North Korea? In recent days, there was an article suggesting that North Korea and Iran were included as afterthoughts in Bush's 2002 State of the Union Address so that the mention of Iraq alone would not make it so obvious that Iraq was going to be the focus of Bush's foreign policy. I'm not going to pretend to sort that one out but it would be consistent with what we now know is an administration so obsessed with domestic public relations that it can't even clearly state its foreign policy messages to the world (think of Karen Hughes, a political mouthpiece for the administration, going to Islamic countries and explaining that Americans have mommys and daddys too).

Truthout has an article by Jay Bookman from the Atlanta Journal Constitution that summarizes what passes for Bush's Iran policy:
Trying to make sense of the Bush administration's strategy toward Iran may be a fool's game, because it assumes a strategy exists in the first place.

That doesn't seem the case. Statements and policies issued one day are contradicted the next, perhaps the result of internal White House struggles between hardline and more moderate factions who can't agree on a single approach.


For now, the administration seems paralyzed. It has heeded the warnings of our military professionals that with our forces already overstretched it would be foolish to seek another war. But its hardliners retain the power to block any effort to negotiate a peaceful settlement.

The result is an administration perfectly willing to accept war, but unwilling to prevent it.

I have no idea if we're going to war with Iran or not. But there's evidence that the Bush Administration might have been able to negotiate with Iran back in late 2001 when indeed Bush had enormous leverage. And again, in 2003, there may have been another diplomatic effort that the Bush Administration botched. Steve Clemons of The Washington Note has some details:
Gareth Porter has an important article out today, "Rove Said to Have Received 2003 Iranian Proposal."

Porter writes:
Karl Rove, then White House deputy chief of staff for President George W. Bush, received a copy of the secret Iranian proposal for negotiations with the United States from former Republican Congressman Bob Ney in early May 2003, according to an Iranian-American scholar who was then on his Congressional staff.
The revelation that Rove is involved is huge -- because it further raises the stakes for exactly why then National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said that she never "saw the fax" of the Guldimann-couriered Iran offer.

Foreign policy officials confirm to this writer that the fax did make it to National Security Council official Elliot Abrams, who has not admitted seeing the memos sent by Guldimann.

But if Rove also received the proposal through the separate channel of Congressman Bob Ney, it is hard to believe that Rove would have just hidden the matter in a pile of other faxes and not passed the material on to Rice directly -- or at least to White House Chief-of-Staff Andy Card.

Do Republicans in the Senate really want to put all their faith into the gang that can't shoot straight? Do they really want to keep defending these guys and risk a third war? Iraq is broken. The White House is broken. Isn't it time for Republicans in Washington to join Democrats in cleaning up the mess?

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Carl Bernstein on George W. Bush

I watched Douglas Feith on Charlie Rose tonight as the former Pentagon official told Charlie one whopper after another. Feith implied that the CIA is responsible for exaggerating the WMD and al Qaida connection with Saddam Hussein as if he had played no part in the Bush Administration's disastrous case for war; in fact, Feith was doing his best at the time to help the Bush inner circle exaggerate things way beyond what the CIA was willing to say.

We're in a strange era since President Bush gives us almost no reason to trust him anymore (I say almost because I believe him when he says he wants more tax cuts that we can't afford to give away) but Republicans are still rubber stamping the president. I think it's always useful to hear journalists who have been around for a long time who aren't dependent on sources in the Bush Administration. The Raw Story has a post on famed Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein:
Comparing the Nixon administration's press relations to those of Bush, Bernstein says, "Nixon's relationship to the press was consistent with his relationship to many institutions and people. He saw himself as a victim. We now understand the psyche of Richard Nixon, that his was a self-destructive act and presidency.

"The Bush administration," Bernstein continues, "is a far different matter in which disinformation, misinformation and unwillingness to tell the truth -- a willingness to lie both in the Oval Office, in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, in the office of the vice president, the vice president himself -- is something that I have never witnessed before on this scale."

The Bush Administration isn't the only part of the fiasco that has been unfolding before our eyes, of course. There was the unwillingness of Congress to hold Bush accountable in the post-9/11 era until just recently. And the media gave Bush a free pass for the longest time, merely laughing when the administration lied or yawning when scandals were revealed (how many times have we heard, "that's an old story"?).

We've seen several movies now where a ship is heading towards a port and there's no way to stop it even though the people on shore watch the ship tear through rows of small boats. The Bush presidency is very much like that—in slow motion. Bush is on the bridge twiddling his fingers, pretending he has nothing to do with the disaster that is clearly of his own making. And there's a smirk on his face because a helicopter is coming to take him off the ship before January 20, 2009. Americans need to understand that without help from the Republicans now, so that Bush can't use his veto to override some very necessary accountability, the next president will find it very difficult to stop that ship before it hits shore.

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Friday, February 16, 2007

House Passes Iraq Resolution and Other News

Seventeen Republicans joined the Democrats in a nonbinding resolution opposing Bush's troop surge (which can't be a troop surge since our allies are still pulling out troops—hmm, maybe our allies see something Bush doesn't). The vote was 246-186 in favor of the resolution. That means 57% of the House voted for the resolution. It is likely the pressure on Bush and the Republicans will be increasing in the coming months.

Kevin Drum of The Washington Monthly links to a story that Iraqis are already using machine shops to make Explosively Formed Penetrators of the kind the administration says the Iranians are making. If Iraqi insurgents are making them, why would they have to get them from the Iranians? It sounds more like a black market item that other groups are acquiring. It is a fact that Bush's credibility isn't worth much these days and any attempt on the part of his administration to try and justify war with Iran must be viewed with extreme skepticism. Bush is a right wing Republican authoritarian and authoritarians are notorious for trying to blame others when their schemes don't turn out the way they thought they would.

As we all know, President Bush plays political games and one of those games is to pretend that Democrats don't support the troops. This is an odd claim on Bush's part since the single biggest blunder in Iraq was not sending enough troops to get the job done in the first place thus exposing our soldiers to four years of war. That's not protecting the troops—that's reckless incompetence. Mary of The Left Coaster says John Murtha will soon have a bill to hold Bush accountable and to make sure the president really does support the troops:
Murtha's bill will end the stopgap procedures, end the extensions of deployments, and end the deployment of troops without sufficient training, equipment or time between deployments. Furthermore the bill will close Abu Ghraib, reduce the number of contractors that can be used, change the rules so the contractors who are used have to be more accountable to the American public, defund permanent bases in Iraq, etc. It addresses all those policies that Bush has fostered that has created such a mess in Iraq.

It's irresponsible that a president would send troops to Iraq without the proper training and equipment but that is what Bush has been doing. These days, the American people, the Iraqis and the world don't have much faith in George W. Bush. Bush compounds his own problems (and inevitably our problems) by not being straight with the American people and by continuing to play dangerous political games instead of engaging in diplomacy or using common sense.

It's also irresponsible for right wing Republicans to keep defending a war that isn't doing much for the United States and that was sold under false pretenses. It's shameful that right wing Republicans in Congress have voted for tax cuts for the wealthy while underfunding our troops and not holding Bush accounting for fraud, corruption and waste in the money that was used for reconstruction in Iraq. The Republicans will peddle their story in the coming months and years as they did with Vietnam but Americans are catching on and they no longer see today's Republicans offering much to the American people except war, fear and grief.

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It's a Start: Republicans Breaking Away from Bush

There's only a dozen Republicans in the House breaking away from supporting Bush's surge in Iraq, but it's a start. The move is sure to put enormous pressure on Bush and sure to make other Republicans think about whether it's time to listen to voters or continue listening to a failed president. Here's the story from Paul Kane of The Washington Post:
From the moderate suburbs of Delaware to the rural, conservative valleys of eastern Tennessee, House Republican opponents of President Bush's latest Iraq war plan cut across the GOP's ideological and regional spectrum.

Numbering a dozen or more, these House Republicans have emerged as some of the most prominent opponents of the plan to increase troop presence in Iraq. They admit to being a ragtag band, with no scheduled meetings and little political cohesion.


The conventional wisdom on Capitol Hill has been that those Republicans facing the most tenuous political hold on their seats would be in open revolt against Bush's unpopular decision to send more troops into Iraq. But the lion's share of GOP opponents of the Bush plan come from comfortable to very safe congressional districts.

Our foreign policy is in disarray. Bush is not capable of fixing that disarray with anything more than bandaids. In fact, it's worse than that; Bush still thinks he can fix his blunders with better photo ops. Cheney is still going around 'misreading' intelligence reports to the detriment of our nation. A year ago, Condi Rice launched a diplomatic program aimed at Iran but hasn't bother with the task of actually talking with the Iranians.

We can no longer afford a policy that simply digs a deeper hole without a clear concept of what it is we're trying to do. We all know that the cost of Bush's war in Iraq far exceeds any benefit that the United States is getting from the misadventure. We all know we don't need need to be in the middle of a civil war and we don't need a third war however it might happen. A dozen Republicans are speaking up. The American people need another fifty Republicans in the House to say enough is enough; it's time to wind down the war, not expand it.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Veterans Group Says Iraq Debate Important

As many of us know, right wing Republicans don't have much integrity these days. The United States is the most powerful country in the world and we are the one who launched a war against Iraq, a war we did not need, but Bush and Cheney are still engaging in fear mongering. Then, there the right wing nonsense that debate on Iraq hurts our troops. This too is nonsense. We have a war that should never have been pursued in the first place and we have a president who is oblivious to the damage he is doing to our foreign policy or even the opportunities to undo the damage he has done.

Raw Story has a post on a veterans groups that reminds us of what it is our soldiers fight for:
Paul Rieckhoff, the president of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), appeared as a guest on MSNBC's Countdown program on Wednesday, Feb. 14. The former infantry platoon leader in Iraq from 2003 to 2004 explained that debate about the war doesn't hurt the troops. Such arguments, claimed Rieckhoff, are simply "political shields."

"The reason guys like me join the military is to preserve that free right to have a real dissent and a real debate about the most important issue facing our country," said Reickhoff. "That is why we joined the military. It‘s why we take up arms, to defend exactly that type of right. So I think [saying criticism of the war demoralizes the troops] is a really dangerous road to go down when it comes to the political dialogue."

It's time to bring President Bush's foreign policy under control before he does more harm. The issue is as simple and fundamental as just that. Let the debate in Congress begin in earnest and in seriousness with the usual games and obstructionism from Republicans.

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Bill Moyers Speaks on Ideas and Democracy

There's no getting around that I'm under the weather. I cheered myself up tonight by reading Bill Moyers. He has a decent way of simply laying out the reality of where our country is today. Here's a part of his speech from Truthout:
Jesus would not be crucified today. The prophets would not be stoned. Socrates would not drink the hemlock. They would instead be banned from the Sunday talk shows and op-ed pages by the sentries of establishment thinking who guard against dissent with the one weapon of mass destruction most cleverly designed to obliterate democracy - the rubber stamp.

A stock broker who makes bad picks doesn't last too long. A baseball player in an extended slump gets traded. A worker made redundant by cheaper labor abroad or by a new machine - well, she's done for, too. But four years after the invasion of Iraq - the greatest blunder in foreign policy since Vietnam - the public apologists and advocates of the war flourish in the media, while the costs of their delusions accrue in body counts and lost treasure. A public that detests the war is relegated to the bleachers, fated to watch from afar the playing out by political and media elites of a game that has been rigged.

Yet the salvation of democracy requires a public aroused by the knowledge of what is being done to them in their name. Here is the crisis of the times as I see it: We talk about problems, issues, policies, but we don't talk about what democracy means - what it bestows on us - the revolutionary idea that it isn't just about the means of governance but the means of dignifying people so they become fully free to claim their moral and political agency. "I believe in Democracy because it releases the energies of every human being." So spoke Woodrow Wilson...

If we can't elect Bill Moyers to be our president, then somebody ought to make him vice president, or the UN ambassador, or even philosopher laureate would do. Actually I have a better idea. Instead of that media illusion, Rudy Giuliani, I nominate Bill Moyers to be America's mayor: he would never bore us with his speeches, he wouldn't pretend to be something he isn't and he might actually be able to fight city hall better than any of the rest of us.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Meanwhile, the Bush Administration Is At It Again

No, I'm not talking about the latest attempt by the Bush Administration to start another war. Many people have noticed that when Bush is busy making noise about some big issue, strange things tend to happen when nobody is looking. Here's a business story by Stephen Labaton of The New York Times that has not gone entirely unnoticed:
The Securities and Exchange Commission has begun to take steps on two fronts to protect corporations, executives and accounting firms from investor lawsuits that accuse them of fraud.


Critics said that the moves signaled a major retrenchment from the post-Enron changes and showed that a lobbying push by big companies, Wall Street firms and the accounting industry was gaining traction as they seek to roll back what they see as onerous regulation and excessive investor litigation.


Institutional investors and some analysts expressed alarm at the developments, noting that the number of shareholder lawsuits was declining significantly. “It is clear from these actions that this is a commission intent on reversing seven decades of rule making, by Democrats and Republicans, that have protected investors and opposed shielding auditors,” said Lynn E. Turner, a former chief accountant at the commission and the managing director of research at Glass Lewis, an adviser to large shareholders. “This administration and this agency are very pro-business and anti-investor.”

Now let's think about this for a moment. It was the failure of an accounting firm to do its job that partly led to the collapse of Enron; in fact, the accounting firm got too cozy with Enron executives and ignored some alarming signs of trouble. But the Bush Administration wants to go back to the games that Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling were playing. Now the Bush Administration is cutely arguing that we need to protect the four remaining accounting firms. Wouldn't more accounting firms increase the competition? Wouldn't tighter rules for the accounting firms make them less susceptible to lawsuits in the first place?

Let's think about this a little further. Wasn't Bush the one who was pushing for the privatization of Social Security so that individual Americans could invest in the stock market? With the rule changes the Bush Administration is proposing, small investors and even pension funds would be at greater risk of losing their money to fraud. Hmmm, our government at work courtesy of George W. Bush and friends.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

An Energy Policy Gone Bad

The United States has a strong economy and has a reputation as maybe the most innovative country in the world. But some argue that our reputation for innovation isn't quite as well deserved as it once was. It doen't take much of a look around to notice that there are problems. The auto industry isn't keeping up with the world and a great deal of the manufacturing base owned by American companies is actually overseas. We're more or less in good shape but problems are coming and it would be a mistake to take things for granted.

Here's a story from Anna Fifiled of the Financial Times that is a parable for all of us to consider (hat tip to The Oil Drum):
North Korea has suffered extreme energy shortages since the collapse of the Soviet Union, its main benefactor until 1990. Night-time satellite photos show the country as a black hole surrounded by Japan and South Korea – ablaze with light.

“North Korea’s power plants were already 40 years out of date [when the Soviet Union collapsed] but they can’t repair them because they don’t have the energy to make spare parts, which is causing them to deteriorate further,” says Timothy Savage of the Nautilus Institute, a think-tank that has done extensive studies of the North’s energy sector. “Their whole energy system is held together with chewing gum and baling wire.”


The energy shortages are directly related to the severe economic problems the North is suffering, analysts say. The US Central Intelligence Agency attributes years of industrial underinvestment to the country’s power problems. “Industrial and power output have declined in parallel,” the CIA says in its North Korea factbook.

...they can’t repair them because they don’t have the energy to make spare parts... North Korea is an extreme case scenario. But according to some experts, the scenario may become more common throughout the world if enough isn't done to maintain infrastructure and energy sources in the coming years. During the energy crisis of the 1970s, the economies of a number of countries actually went backwards. Even the economy of the United States went through a period of stagnant growth and inflation. No one knows the exact energy situation of the world. But there are plenty of signs that we need a major energy policy, one that considers climate change and pollution while taking care of our needs. The Bush Administration talks about energy but in fact it does little. That needs to change but no one expects much to happen in the next two years. When it comes to energy, the next president should be ready to hit the ground running. We've gone without an energy policy for too many years.

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Zbigniew Brzezinski Renews Call for Change

It seems impossible at times to write about the critical issues of the day without repeating oneself. I've been complaining about that but I seem to have very good company. Zbigniew Brzezinski is once again calling for change in the Bush Administration's policy towards Iraq and Iran; here's an excerpt from his article in the Los Angeles Times:
THE WAR IN IRAQ is a historic strategic and moral calamity undertaken under false assumptions. It is undermining America's global legitimacy. Its collateral civilian casualties, as well as some abuses, are tarnishing America's moral credentials. Driven by Manichean impulses and imperial hubris, it is intensifying regional instability.

Yet major strategic decisions in the Bush administration continue to be made within a very narrow circle of individuals — perhaps not more than the fingers on one hand. With the exception of the new Defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, these are the same individuals who have been involved from the start of this misadventure, who made the original decision to go to war in Iraq and who used the original false justifications for going to war. It is human nature to be reluctant to undertake actions that would imply a significant reversal of policy.

From the standpoint of U.S. national interest, this is particularly ominous. If the United States continues to be bogged down in protracted, bloody involvement in Iraq, the final destination on this downhill track is likely to be a head-on conflict with Iran and much of the Islamic world.

Perhaps the one new element is that Brzezinski emphasizes that staying in Iraq, particularly with the current policies and foreign policy team, has enormous potential to do even more damage to the United States than it already has. I suspect Brzezinski has the same concern as many other Americans do: getting to January 2009 with our country reasonably in good shape for the next president. If there are signs that Bush is deliberately trying to tie the hands of the next president by digging a deeper hole and doing more damage to our nation, even Republicans better start thinking about impeachment.

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Bush's Claims on Iran Receive Reality Check

Bush's failed presidency continues to embarrass an electorate that has caught on to Bush's ways. Most Americans do not want a third war. After a lot of unsubstantiated and muddled news recently that appears designed to exaggerate Iran's link to the insurgency in Iraq—at least on the Shiite side supposedly—and thereby to the deaths of some of our soldiers, Bush appears to be laying the groundwork for war with Iran.

Not so fast says General Pace. Here's the story from the Voice of America (hat tip to Steve Soto of The Left Coaster):
The top American military officer, General Peter Pace, declined Monday to endorse the conclusions of U.S. military officers in Baghdad, who told reporters on Sunday that the Iranian government is providing high-powered roadside bombs to insurgents in Iraq. General Pace made his comments during a visit to Australia, and VOA's Al Pessin reports from Canberra.

General Pace said he was not aware of the Baghdad briefing, and that he could not, from his own knowledge, repeat the assertion made there that the elite Quds brigade of Iran's Republican Guard force is providing bomb-making kits to Iraqi Shiite insurgents.

"We know that the explosively formed projectiles are manufactured in Iran. What I would not say is that the Iranian government, per se [specifically], knows about this," he said. "It is clear that Iranians are involved, and it's clear that materials from Iran are involved, but I would not say by what I know that the Iranian government clearly knows or is complicit."

When a general disagrees with the White House, the general is usually right—and on the retired list a few weeks later. We'll see if Pace maintains his position.

We know there are neoconservatives who openly urge war with Iran while disregarding the likely consequences of such a war. These neoconservatives have been dead wrong on repeated occassions when it comes to Iraq. And of course, the Bush Administration has been making a long series of blunders. There has been growing suspicion for some time that the Bush Administration is deliberately provoking Iran, or at the very least, looking for some excuse to start a war with Iran. It's not known if we will have a war with Iran or not, but there's been informed speculation for some time that in the delusional inner circle of the White House, a gamble on a third war would somehow make up for two wars that are not going well (although with British in charge under NATO control in Afghanistan, there has been at least some improvement of late). Congress needs to shut the door on further wars but the reality is that the Democrats will need some votes from the Republicans to shut that door.

It's been known from the beginning that Iraq had caches of conventional arms that Donald Rumsfeld failed to make sure were rounded up in his zeal to show what a quick war under a new military transformation would look like. We also have known for awhile that Rumsfeld and the White House were slow on stopping the looting in Baghdad as money and supplies were stolen by any number of people, including Saddam Hussein loyalists who planned to continue fighting. It's also been known that we did not have enough troops to stop the looting, secure the country and close down the borders to illegal traffic. Given enough time, it was inevitable that supplies would be smuggled in for the insurgents and probably various militias from different parts of the Middle East. Something to keep in mind is that there are probably weapons in the hands of insurgents and militias from most countries in the world that produce weapons. There should be no doubt that occassionally Americans are killed by insurgents with American-made equipment.

In his book, Fiasco, Thomas Ricks tells the story of a number of mistakes that were made in the middle phases of Bush's war in Iraq. Fiasco was finished in mid-2006 so this is information that has been around awhile; the following talks about a point Paul Wolfowitz tried to make around June 2003 as the insurgency was becoming evident:
At the time, Wolfowitz also was arguing that the situation in Iraq didn't qualify to be considered a war. "I think it is worth emphasizing that these guys lack the two classical ingredients in a so-called guerilla war, if that's what you want to say they are conducting," he said. "They lack the sympathy of the population, and they lack any serious source of external support." In retrospect, it appears that Wolfowitz was wrong on both counts: Iraqi sympathy for anti-American forces was growing, and external support was coalescing, because many top Iraqi Baathists had taken refuge in Syria, from where they were able to send in money and fighters, and also to where they could begin receiving aid from supporters in Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, and elsewhere in the Arab world. [pg. 170]

Before we do something stupid by racing off to attack Syria, it's important to remember that they helped us at critical points when Bush was still serious about focusing on al Qaida terrorists and not broadening his definition of his war on terror for political purposes. As for Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, we consider ourselves allies of those countries but it is likely that individually people are sending help to the Sunni insurgents. Most of our troops who have been killed in Iraq were killed by Sunni insurgents who want nothing to do with Iran. It's a weird, schizoid situation. But attacking Saudi Arabia or the Gulf states because of some arms traffic would be a profound blunder. If that is true, then singling out Iran for possible military intervention because Bush and Cheney have an obsession with Iran would be no less of a strategic blunder. And even if war with Iran were necessary, the evidence shows that Bush and Cheney are the last men in America who should be in charge of what would be another fiasco in their hands.

Now I haven't covered everything here and I don't have time tonight to proofread closely what I've written, but bear this in mind: the Bush Administration depends on creating sufficient noise in the media to confuse everyone. But there's no reason to be confused. Bush and Cheney have no credibility left; when government officials controlled by them make claims, it's time to stop giving credibillity to those claims.

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Defining Bush: A Compassionate Imperialist?

By now, we know that Bush is not a typical Republican. We know he's not a moderate, though that's what he ran as in 2000. We know he's not a Goldwater conservative; Goldwater's politics are now too liberal for Bush. We know fiscal conservatism is not his thing. How do we define him, then? Perhaps by letting Bush define himself.

Melinda Henneberger of The Huffington Post caught this exchange on C-Span during an interview of Bush:
When the interviewer made a reference to "Goldwater Republicans," and "Rockefeller Republicans," he chuckled -- his word -- and stopped the questioner from finishing his thought.

"I'm just chuckling because I think 'Goldwater Republicans' and 'Rockefeller Republicans' are pretty far past," the president said. "That's rude of me to chuckle, but I would be cautious about stereotyping philosophies."

Okay, his interviewer said mildly, but what he'd really wanted to know was how (George W.) Bush Republicans would be defined, and what images the phrase "Bush Republican" might summon for future generations.

And suddenly, it was 2000 again; Mr. Bush did not mention 9/11 or the global war on terror, Iraq or Afghanistan, Saddam or bin Laden: "Compassionate conservatism" was his legacy, he declared, and referred to the faith-based initiatives we haven't heard much about in subsequent years. "I made a name by being compassionate."

Now, to be fair to the president, Bush says things all the time that aren't connected to reality. One has to take everything he says with a grain of salt. But if he really does believe that this presidency is about 'being compassionate,' how does he explain his war in Iraq? Did compassion lead him to lie to the American people? Did compassion lead to the special rendition programs and the excessive use of torture? Was Abu Ghraib and the leveling of Fallujah about compassion?

Perhaps we have misunderstood Bush's war in Iraq. The war, as far as Bush was concerned, really was over when he strutted on the aircraft carrier. Iraq has been an American colony since April of 2003 and Bush is just your friendly compassionate imperialist having trouble with his colonial subjects.

Okay, I'm being sarcastic. It's entirely possible that Bush is being sarcastic. But let's assume Occam's razor, that the simplest explanation is that the president meant what he said in the above exchange. To repeat, that means we have a president, this president, who says his legacy is that he will be remembered for 'being compassionate.' How do we get our arms around such an idea? How do we talk about it in a way that is respectful without being dishonest? Frankly, how do we talk about it without being alarmed by the president's disconnect from any rational understanding of his failing presidency?

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Bush's War Unleashing Sectarian Divisions

Today is Lincoln's birthday. Abraham Lincoln is one of at least two Republicans most modern Democrats admire. I say modern because many of yesterday's Democrats eventually joined today's Republican Party. We all know this, though Republicans like to make pretentious comments about the past while finding new groups to turn against. Bill Kristol made a nonsensical comment over the weekend that Barack Obama would have supported slavery or some such nonsense during the Civil War. I'll leave to others to sort out Kristol's delusions. Anyway, how many times has Bill Kristol been right in the last five years? How many times has the Republican leadership in Congress been right in the last five years?

Iraq is in a civil war. Many Americans have a long memory of our own Civil War, particularly those who live in the South. I was born and raised in California and I grew up not knowing my family had a small Civil War connection. My great-grandmother, who married the Scotsman and settled in the San Joaquin, came from a family, a clan actually, that had lived in Virginia, Tennessee, and Arkansas in succeeding generations. My great-grandmother was born just months after the Civil War ended and a year after her parents had arrived in California, but most of her extended family had left Arkansas for California just before the Civil War. Her parents and an uncle and his wife had remained behind in Arkansas to take care of the young children that belonged to other family members until those members had become established in California. They were not involved in the fighting but they were in Arkansas during the war years. The great-great grandfather was a pastor and led his congregation as war and disease came to Arkansas. The war passed by the great-great grandparents and the children they were caring for, but not disease. Disease came and sickness. In a single horrendous night, five of the children died. But six managed to survive. The following spring, before the war was over, the remainder of the family finally arrived in California.

We need to think about what we're doing in the Middle East. Chaos is being unleashed and our president refuses to open talks with the neighboring countries around Iraq. No one can pretend that the current president understands what he's doing. For Bush, everything is about 'winning,' public relations or being the 'decider.' He clearly is not a Lincoln.

Here's an article by Anthony Shadid of The Washington Post that talks about some of the growing anxiety, chaos and confusion in the broader Middle East:
The growing Sunni-Shiite divide is roiling an Arab world as unsettled as at any time in a generation. Fought in speeches, newspaper columns, rumors swirling through cafes and the Internet, and occasional bursts of strife, the conflict is predominantly shaped by politics: a disintegrating Iraq, an ascendant Iran, a sense of Arab powerlessness and a persistent suspicion of American intentions. But the division has begun to seep into the region's social fabric, too. The sectarian fault line has long existed and sometimes ruptured, but never, perhaps, has it been revealed in such a stark, disruptive fashion.

Newspapers are replete with assertions, some little more than incendiary rumors, of Shiite aggressiveness. The Jordanian newspaper Ad-Dustour, aligned with the government, wrote of a conspiracy last month to spread Shiism from India to Egypt. On the conspirators' agenda, it said: assassinating "prominent Sunni figures." The same day, an Algerian newspaper reported that parents were calling on the government to stop Shiite proselytizing in schools. An Egyptian columnist accused Iran of trying to convert Sunnis to Shiism in an attempt to revive the Persian Safavid dynasty, which came to power in the 16th century.


"To us Egyptians," said writer and analyst Mohammed al-Sayid Said, the sectarian division is "entirely artificial. It resonates with nothing in our culture, nothing in our daily life. It's not part of our social experience, cultural experience or religious experience." But he added: "I think this can devastate the region."

The violence remains confined to Iraq and, on a far smaller scale, Lebanon, but to some, the four-year-long entropy of Iraq offers a metaphor for the forces emerging across the region: People there watched the rise of sectarian identity, railed against it, blamed the United States and others for inflaming it, then were often helpless to stop the descent into bloodshed.

My great-grandmother, the one who married the Scotsman and settled in the San Joaquin, was lucky. She was an immigrant, albeit within the borders of the United States, and was able to start life over free of a painful past. Starting over is an important part of our history even if we have never left home. It is a state of mind, an opportunity, a belief in the second and third chance and more. It accounts for the some of the optimism in our history, the belief that if given time we might be able to get things right.

But not all people can move on. We are trapping millions in Iraq in a war not of their choosing though the sectarian divisions are real. Bush has no idea what he is doing. His advisers reached far beyond anything they had known before. We have had people make life and death decisions who have never been to war and who refused to defer to those who have been to war.

We need some wisdom and we need it soon. I don't know if a Lincoln will show up in the next few years but we need change in Washington now. Time is running short.

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