We're trying to survey all the many good ideas being tried outside the range of the Beltway pundits. So tell us about any local, state or municipal initiative in your area that you're excited about and think is worth emulating nationally.
Osama's split and Wall Street's sagging.
It's time to get that puppy wagging.
On August 1, 2000, Philadelphia police rounded up seventy-five activists inside a West Philadelphia warehouse. It was the second day of the Republican National Convention, and the activists had been making papier-mâché puppets, which they planned to use during street demonstrations. The Philadelphia district attorney ultimately charged the activists with a slew of misdemeanors, including conspiracy to obstruct the law and resisting arrest. These self-anointed puppetistas were kept in jail until after the Republicans had dropped the last of their balloons from the First Union Center rafters.
Ultimately, charges against all the puppet makers were dismissed. Last summer more than a third of them sued the city over alleged violations of their civil rights. They assumed their cases would be strong enough to net not only substantial cash payments but significant reform in the police department. Now it looks like they'll be getting neither.
The reason, they say, is the unusually aggressive tactics of the law firm representing the city in these cases. Hangley Aronchick Segal & Pudlin attempted to depose plaintiffs' lawyers, arguing that they encouraged protesters to engage in civil disobedience, get themselves arrested and clog the city's jails. The firm has subpoenaed activists' address books, personal tax records and entire computer hard drives. Its lawyers hired investigators to question former spouses and flew across the country to interrogate witnesses.
About twenty-seven civil suits stemming from puppet warehouse arrests are now being settled out of court. A transcript from a June 18 hearing spells out the details of the agreement for twenty-four of the cases, which have been consolidated under Traci Franks v. the City of Philadelphia. It says that plaintiffs agree to accept $72,000, which will be divvied up between two nonprofit groups: the Spiral Q Puppet Theater and Books Through Bars. The figure was derived by awarding $3,000 to each of the twenty-four plaintiffs. (Separate settlements are being negotiated for the suits filed by warehouse owner Michael Graves and two other activists.)
In July the Traci Franks file was sealed, and a gag order forbids any of the parties involved from discussing details. But whatever the final dollar amount ends up being, the settlement agreement won't drain city coffers of a dime because it's all covered by insurance.
The host committee for the RNC, a group of high-profile Philadelphians, paid $100,000 for an insurance policy seven months prior to the convention. The policy specifically covers up to $3 million for personal injury arising from claims of false arrest and wrongful imprisonment, malicious prosecution and violation of civil rights. The insurer, Lexington Insurance Company in Boston, hired Hangley Aronchick to handle the civil suits. During the June 18 hearing Hangley Aronchick attorney David Wolfsohn implied that the insurance carrier may even be able to claim a tax deduction for contributing the $72,000 settlement to charity.
Many activists agreed to settle because they fear that turning over more e-mails and meeting minutes to city attorneys could compromise future legal protests, should documents wind up in government hands. They also decided to throw in the towel when it became clear the city would not agree to a reform of police procedures. In this post-September 11 world, law enforcement agencies are expanding their scope, not narrowing it.
People embarked on these suits to get injunctive relief, says Kris Hermes, a member of for the R2K Legal Collective. Because that wasn't happening, there was less incentive to carry on.
Plus, plaintiffs are doubtful a jury would be sympathetic to political dissenters, given the current political climate. "There is a deep desire on the part of many Americans to see police officers as the bulwark protecting them, and they don't want to confront anything indicating officers have the power to abuse us," says Pennsylvania ACLU legal director Stefan Presser.
But the biggest obstacle is that the activists' attorneys want out as quickly as possible. They accepted the puppetista cases on contingency fees, and they simply can't keep pace with a major law firm eager to rack up billable hours.
Angus Love, director of the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, was subpoenaed and deposed by Hangley Aronchick because he worked as a legal observer during the RNC. He says the city usually does a half-assed job of litigating these cases. "But now we have a private law firm that is used to a higher level of attack," Love says. Wolfsohn is going after political protesters as if they were right-wing terrorists.
Attorneys on both sides of the lawsuits, as well as Philadelphia officials, declined to comment for this story. At the time of the warehouse raid, however, Mayor John Street was vocal on the subject. As hundreds of criminal charges were being processed on August 2, 2000, Street told reporters that he fully expected the city to be sued. "But we expect that we will defend the city.... We will defend our police department to the Supreme Court if necessary," he said.
Presser was among the attorneys Hangley Aronchick had hoped to depose. He characterizes the request as extremely unusual, noting only one similar situation during his twenty years of practicing law. Hangley Aronchick has also subpoenaed people ranging from well-known activists to plaintiffs' relatives.
Matthew Hart, the director of the Spiral Q Puppet Theater, was ordered to turn over all his e-mails, date books and phone records. He characterizes his oral deposition as bizarre and perfunctory.
"Attorneys for the city inferred this massive conspiracy that I don't even think the people involved had the capacity to pull off," Hart says. "I think their biggest intention was to move as slowly as possible and bill more hours."
Traci Schlesinger, the lead plaintiff in the consolidated suit, says her deposition brought to mind the McCarthy era.
"It seemed as though he hoped to prove I was an anarchist, and then it would be legitimate for police to arrest me," Schlesinger says.
US Rep. Nick Rahall's policy pronouncements tend toward announcements about extending water and sewer service in southern West Virginia, or the erection of safety barriers on dangerous stretches of Interstate 64. So much of official Washington was caught by surprise when the West Virginia Democrat appeared before the Iraqi Assembly Sunday "as a member of Congress concerned with peace" and declared, "Basically, I want America and Iraq to give peace a chance."
"Instead of assuming that war must come, let us find ways to discover how to prove that war is unnecessary," Rahall told the Iraqis. "It is time and, in my opinion, far past time that American andIraqi officials talk to each other without threats."
Rahall's trip to Baghdad, which followed President Bush's saber-rattling address to the United Nations General Assembly, drew international attention to a congressman who has spent most of his quarter century on Capitol Hill securing funding for road projects and mine safety initiatives. Unlike Bush, however, Rahall is no newcomer to Middle East affairs.
Women's bodies were central battlegrounds in the worst bout of
Hindu-Muslim bloodletting to grip India in over ten years, in the
western Indian state of Gujarat beginning on February 27. After an
enraged Muslim mob allegedly set a train packed with Hindus on fire
in Godhra, killing fifty-eight, a wave of retaliatory violence was
unleashed on the minority Muslim population in the region, leaving up
to 2,000 dead and 100,000 homeless. Under the indulgent gaze of the
state government, and against a backdrop of ransacked houses and
desecrated temples, at least 250 women and girls were brutally
gang-raped and burned alive.
Shabnam Hashmi, founder of SAHMAT (a coalition of artists and
intellectuals who work to strengthen secularism within Indian
society), believes that although the pogrom was triggered by Godhra,
the attacks were premeditated: "These mobs were trained in rape. Why
else would the same pattern of brutality be repeated everywhere?
Groups of women were stripped naked and then made to run for miles,
before being gang-raped and burned alive. In some cases religious
symbols were carved onto their bodies." In the documentary Evil
Stalks the Land, produced by Hashmi's husband, Gauhar Raza, a young
boy stares, unblinking, into the camera. "About 100 to 150 children
my age were burned in a house," he recalls. "The tea stall in which
we were hiding was set on fire using gas cylinders. My grandmother's
limbs were chopped off and my aunt was brutally raped."
Among all the horrifying testimonies of sexual violence to emerge
from Gujarat, one story has come to symbolize the collective
suffering of the Muslim community. It is told and retold on news
stories, in NGO reports, in eyewitness accounts: "I was running [and]
I saw a pregnant woman's belly being cut open," states a young boy on
Indian television. "The fetus was pulled out and thrown up in the
air. As it came down it was collected on the tip of the sword."
"[Kausar Bano] was nine months'pregnant," recalls Saira Banu at the
Shah Alam camp for refugees. "They cut open her belly, took her fetus
with a sword and threw it into a blazing fire. Then they burned her
as well." "We were to hear this story many times," wrote the
Citizen's Initiative fact-finding team of women, who saw photographic
evidence of the burned body of a mother with a charred fetus lying on
her stomach. Their April 16 report, The Survivors Speak, reflects
upon the significance of this crime: "Kausar's story has come to
embody the numerous experiences of evil that were felt by the
Muslims.Sˇ In all instances where extreme violence is experienced
collectively, meta-narratives are constructed. Each victim is part of
the narrative; their experience subsumed by the collective
experience. Kausar is that collective experience-a meta-narrative of
bestiality; a meta-narrative of helpless victimhood." The image of
Kausar and her unborn child has assumed a dual meaning, for both
Hindu aggressors and Muslim victims: The humiliation of the enemy
through violation of the female body, and the assault on the future
of the Muslim community through the destruction of the next
Why is gender violence such a consistent feature of the communal
riots that spasmodically grip India? In an impassioned May 11
editorial in The Hindu, India's national daily, Raka Roy, an
associate professor of sociology at the University of California,
Berkeley, offered one explanation. Roy asked: "Where does the
creation of the inferior other in India begin?" It begins, she
argues, with the divisive caste system, which has allowed the
principle of inequality to become embedded in Hindu culture. It
continues in the belief that "women are not only inferior, but also
woman's sexuality has to be patrolled so that it is legitimately
accessible to some men and inaccessible to others." If a woman's body
belongs not to herself but to her community, then the violation of
that body signifies an attack upon the honor (izzat) of the whole
community. Hindu nationalists raped and burned minority women to
destroy not only their bodies but also the integrity and identity of
Muslim society, the inferior Other. Roy also suggests that the
terrible legacy of the partition-with "protected and protectable
women on one side and unprotected and rapable women on the other
side"-still lingers in both the Hindu and Muslim subconscious.
It was the complicity of the state, however, that made it possible
for mass rape to occur in Gujarat. A Human Rights Watch report
concluded that the Sangh Parivar-the family of Hindu nationalist
organizations including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which heads
the Gujarat state government-was directly responsible [see Arundhati
Roy's essay in this issue of The Nation]. According to the report,
police told terrified groups of fleeing Muslims: "We have no orders
to save you."
The thousands of displaced now live in temporary refugee camps, run
almost exclusively by Muslim organizations. Harsh Mander writes: "It
is as though the monumental pain, loss, betrayal and injustice
suffered by the Muslim people is the concern only of other Muslim
people, and the rest of us have no share in the responsibility to
assuage, to heal and rebuild." The Citizen's Initiative report argues
that the state's colossal failure to implement "international Human
Rights norms and instructions and instruments as they relate to
violence per se, especially violence against women," may amount to a
crime under international law. The report recommends that a special
task force, comprising people from outside Gujarat, be set up
immediately to investigate the cases of sexual violence, and that
counseling and rehabilitation programs be established to help the
traumatized survivors. Although the government has proposed "Peace
Committees," it remains unclear what form these would take. All this
provides little consolation for the Muslim women and their families
who must decide where to go when the squalid camps close, which is
scheduled to occur before the Assembly elections following the
resignation of Narendra Modi, the BJP's Chief Minister of Gujarat.
Those who could afford to leave Gujarat have already done so. The
rest will return to their villages, to live as second-class citizens
in the ruins of their homes among the men who raped their sisters,
burned their children and killed their friends.
In some parts of China, local officials keep track of women's menstrual periods. We haven't come to that, but anyone who thinks women's reproductive and sexual privacy is secure in America wasn't following the news this summer.
In "A Different Israel" [August 5/12] Martha C. Nussbaum wrote that
she became relaxed in her "moralistic heart" while accepting an honorary
degree from the University of Haifa in May. She indicates she was able
to wear the Star of David during the ceremony, while she never does when
in her "anti-Zionistic frame of mind." The University of Chicago
professor of ethics and law says her relaxation resulted from the
peaceful cooperation in Haifa among Israelis and Arabs. The reason given
for accepting the degree was to oppose the "ugly campaign" among
academics to boycott Israeli universities.
One should distinguish between relaxation and anesthesia! Perhaps if
Nussbaum had gone to Ramallah instead of Haifa, as an acquaintance of
mine did recently, her "moralistic heart" would have remained awake. As
Nussbaum did, my acquaintance is converting to the Jewish faith of her
father and of her husband. Unlike Nussbaum, having seen the Star of
David used by occupation troops as a graffiti symbol of hatred and
humiliation, she does not feel comfortable wearing hers. Perhaps in
Ramallah the campaign to boycott would not have looked quite so
CLAIBORNE M. CLARK
In Haifa University Martha C. Nussbaum found another Israel. But her
praise for the university as a symbol of coexistence and peace belies
the dismal reality of that campus, which does not (according to
one of the many fallacies in her article) have "many Arab faculty
members" but only six, out of 600. Her stress on the Arab-Jewish nature
of the campus is particularly annoying, as Haifa University has been
singled out in the past two years for its harsh and oppressive treatment
of Arab students.
There is a university other than the one Nussbaum described after she
received a precious prize there. I have been in the university since
1984, and I think what Nussbaum describes is more in line with the
aspirations we had back then but has very little to do with the
realities on campus today.
Haifa University nowadays is an institution that tried to expel me in
May because of my claims that Israel committed an ethnic cleansing of
the Palestinians in the 1948 war--a claim that contradicts the Zionist
narrative of that year. I have been prosecuted, and my tenure nearly
annulled, for my support of an MA student who was disqualified for his
revelation of an unknown massacre perpetrated by the IDF in the village
of Tantura in 1948. Had it not been for overwhelming international
pressure exerted on this "peace-loving" university, I would have been
out of a job.
This university has silenced its Arab students. They are barred from any
political activity on campus, while the Jewish union can openly preach
its Zionist ideology. Arab students are discriminated against in
accommodations and scholarship policies, and their basic rights as a
national group totally denied.
It is hard enough to watch helplessly the demise of pluralism and free
speech in Israel in general and at Haifa University in particular. It is
worse when it is supplemented by embarrassingly pro-Israeli stances in
the United States that either fail to see reality or, worse, are
knowingly serving the present Israeli regime and its evil policies.
New York City
I agree with Martha Nussbaum about a "different Israel." I was invited
to give a lecture in June at Ben Gurion University, where progressive,
liberal and left scholars, activists and professional community workers
in and outside national and local government were discussing ways to
build a more just, peaceful and secure society in Israel.
I also met with ninety community organizers from Shatil, an independent,
foundation-funded organization. For more than twenty years Shatil has
worked in almost every distressed community in Israel and with its most
excluded population groups. It has Israeli-Palestinian Arab, Bedouin and
Druze staff, and Jews from many origins and cultures. They are engaged
in coalition-building around the environment, intergroup relations,
poverty, health, housing, education and welfare, and social insurance.
With the informal support of some government planners, it is organizing
an antipoverty movement, because the government is cutting back on the
amount of social allowances and healthcare.
What was devastating to these articulate and involved progressive people
was the sense of hopelessness about the larger political and military
picture that surrounds them. They see no peacemakers on the horizon.
They view Sharon and Arafat as warmongers and can't identify a single
leader on either side who could shift the kaleidoscope toward peace and
They were buoyed momentarily in June because for the first time a group
of Palestinian scholars, activists and poets wrote an open letter in
Arabic to their leaders calling for an end to suicide bombings and for
negotiations. Just as many of us here are working hard to improve the
quality of life and conditions for people in this country despite Bush
Administration policies, so are many Israelis. There is another
Israel, and it must be seen.
Claiborne Clark's odd logic holds that if a nation is doing anything
bad, there cannot possibly be any good in it. This demonization of an
entire people is just the sort of nonthinking that produces ethnic
violence all over the world; it is all too common between Palestinians
and Israelis. To counter this pernicious tendency, we need to find
examples that show that cooperation is possible and that peace and
justice are not impossibly utopian aspirations. I therefore welcome
Terry Mizrahi's letter and agree with everything it says. I can add that
the group of Palestinians whose letter opposing suicide bombings has by
now been widely published is headed by Sari Nusseibeh, a courageous
politician, philosopher and university administrator who is one of the
best hopes for responsible leadership on the Palestinian side. Nusseibeh
is so far from supporting the boycott of Israeli scholars that he has
written books with some, and he makes a point of speaking at
international conferences that include Israeli speakers. When in the
United States, he insists on addressing both Arab and Jewish audiences.
Clark also gives an inaccurate impression of my article. I said that I
decided to accept the honorary degree both as a statement of opposition
to the boycott of Israeli scholars and as an opportunity to make a
public statement about issues of global justice that have implications
for the just solution to the conflict. As I recorded, I was encouraged
to make such a speech and did so. (My position is roughly that of Amram
Mitzna, mayor of Haifa and candidate for leadership of the Labor Party,
who favors immediate resumption of negotiations, eventual evacuation of
the settlements and a partition of Jerusalem.) I can now add that the
identity of other recipients of honorary degrees at the ceremony,
including Joschka Fischer, the German Green Party foreign minister,
encouraged me to believe that this ceremony was a celebration of dissent
and the search for justice. What surprised me was that I found in Haifa
an entire city that makes peaceful cooperation and the search for a just
solution a way of life, that understands Zionism as I do, as a moral
commitment, not a commitment to nationalistic triumph. No moral
commitment is without struggle, since we live in an imperfect human
world. But it seems right to focus on reasons for hope at a time when
too many are losing hope.
I had not heard of Ilan Pappé before I went to Haifa, and I am
not in a position to speak about his grievances against the university.
I therefore prefer to cite an official statement by the university,
responding to his letter:
"During the course of the past years Dr. Pappé has waged a
puzzling and eccentric one-man campaign to defame his colleagues and the
University of Haifa. The university has reacted with great patience to
his curious and unethical behavior as the issue of academic freedom and
freedom of speech is of great concern to us. Dr. Pappé's letter
is predictably and consistently inaccurate. Here we will address only
the most conspicuous nonissues raised in his letter.
"1. Contrary to his claims that there are only six Arab lecturers at the
University of Haifa, there are in fact sixty-two, nineteen of them in
tenure-track positions. This modest number is constantly rising.
Moreover, there are more Arab faculty members at the University of Haifa
than at any other Israeli university.
"2. The University of Haifa is proud of its efforts in recruiting Arab
students and offering them a wide range of affirmative-action programs.
The Arab students are, themselves, aware of these programs and, as such,
tend to choose Haifa over other colleges and universities in the
country. In fact about 18 percent of our student body are members of
Israel's Arab community. No other university in the country has such a
large percentage of minority students.
"3. We are dismayed by Dr. Pappé's bewildering claim that Arab
students have been barred from political activity while their Jewish
peers preach Zionist ideology with impunity. Nothing can be further from
the truth. Despite the impossible situation of daily life in Israel and
the tense, close encounters between Jews and Arabs on campus, we have
upheld a brave policy of full and uncensored freedom of expression. Our
only limitations were short and limited moratoriums on demonstrations
during exceptional periods (when, for example, some of our students were
killed in terrorist attacks). These limitations applied to Jews and
Arabs alike. Moreover, even during the most stressful times, we did not
limit other features of free speech (fliers, information booths,
political assemblies, etc.).
"4. Dr. Pappé's assertion that Arab students suffer
discrimination in student housing is a mystery. During the course of the
academic year 2001-2, the percentage of Arab students in our dorms
reached 30 percent, while the percentage of Arab students at the
university is about 18 percent.
"5. Contrary to his claims, the university made no attempt to expel Dr.
Pappé. One of his colleagues did indeed lodge a complaint with
the internal faculty disciplinary committee. The complaint focused on
Dr. Pappé's unethical efforts to disbar his colleagues from
international forums for daring to contradict his views. The complaint
had nothing to do with his political views, which are shared by other
members of the campus community. Moreover, Dr. Pappé has omitted
the important fact that he was never summoned by the disciplinary
committee, as the committee's chairperson decided not to pursue the
complaint in its present form.
"6. As for the MA thesis mentioned by Dr. Pappé, the claims in
this study were the subject of a court case, during the course of which
the student-author of the paper tendered a court-sanctioned, written
apology for misrepresentations. Following the court settlement, the
student was offered the opportunity to revise his MA thesis.
"In sum, Dr. Pappé does not appear to be concerned to give
readers of The Nation a full and accurate account of the facts.
Needless to say, despite his odd and unethical behavior, we shall
continue to invest efforts and resources for securing our island of
sanity in this troubled region.
--University of Haifa"
MARTHA C. NUSSBAUM
Why now? Why, one year after September 11, is the Bush Administration
attempting to overthrow decades of precedents and precepts of
international law, along with the best traditions of US foreign policy,
in a relentless push to war? As high-level officials try to sell the
Administration's case to the American people and the President prepares
for an appearance before the UN General Assembly, the White House
continues its attempt to restrict the debate on Iraq to details of
timing and tactics while ignoring the basic question of whether an
invasion of Iraq should be considered at all.
Elsewhere in this issue Stephen Zunes provides a detailed refutation of
the points the Administration has used to argue for war. The arguments
are debatable at best, spurious at worst--like the innuendo that Iraq is
linked to Al Qaeda (in fact, Osama bin Laden regards Saddam Hussein as
an apostate); that "containment has failed" (since the Gulf War, Iraq's
military capabilities have weakened significantly and the regime poses
little or no threat to its neighbors, who oppose invasion); or that
inspection cannot adequately determine whether Iraq is developing
weapons of mass destruction (from 1991 to 1998, inspectors destroyed
much of Iraq's stockpile of chemical and bioweapons). One could go on,
but the point is that all along, this Administration has followed the
Alice in Wonderland logic of the Queen: sentence first, verdict
The White House has sought to justify the right to mount an attack by
the new Bush doctrine of pre-emption--or anticipatory self-defense. But
this country is a member of the United Nations, which was founded to
prevent wars of aggression. And under that body's charter, the United
States can use force only in response to an attack on itself, or if
approved by the Security Council. Otherwise, the Administration has no
right to take this country into war--or even to threaten the use of
The Administration has found this doctrinal deviation a difficult sell
even among its closest allies and thus has begun to search for new ways
to bestow some international legitimacy on its actions. Hence the talks
with Prime Minister Tony Blair, out of which has come a plan for a
Security Council ultimatum to Saddam Hussein to meet British-American
terms unconditionally or face "severe consequences." In short, the
Administration, with British support, may have devised the perfect
pretext for war: a UN demand for the reintroduction of inspectors into
Iraq that Saddam will likely not accept. The Administration is hoping
its plan will provide enough of a UN cover to gain French, Russian and
Chinese support, or at least acquiescence.
Those who question the need or legitimacy of a war against Iraq should
not be fooled. What incentive does the Administration's commitment to
"regime change" give Iraq to readmit inspectors, especially when the
inspectors could, like the last group, use the inspections for US
espionage purposes? Washington should instead announce its support for
inspections insulated from improper influence and pledge to abide by the
With the executive branch committed to war, those who morally oppose an
invasion of Iraq--because of the suffering it would inflict on US
soldiers and Iraqi civilians, because of its potential to destabilize
the region, because it would distract this country from the brokering of
an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement, because a war in Iraq would
detract from the campaign against Al Qaeda and from pressing domestic
needs--have only Congress to turn to. That prospect doesn't offer much
comfort, since the Democratic leadership in the Senate appears ready to
write the Administration a resolution authorizing military action,
albeit with some conditions.
If Congress abdicates its role, it will harm not only the country but
itself. Bush's claim of the right to make pre-emptive war would give him
and future Presidents the authority to determine when a threat exists
and to take action on that threat without subjecting it to debate or to
verification by other branches of government. The principle of
Congressional oversight of the most fundamental decision government can
make--whether to send its sons and daughters into danger--will have been
entirely abandoned. And because Congress is the only arena where the
people's concerns can be aired, the structure of democracy itself will
suffer a grievous blow. Even if UN inspections find that Iraq is trying
to develop an advanced bomb program, there are ways of responding short
of war. A Congressional vote for pre-emptive assault would create a
damaging precedent, abrogate the UN charter, imperil the Constitution
and transform the President into an imperial overlord.
Write, call, act now (see the box on page 5). Americans who oppose the
war and this unconstitutional expansion of power must make their voices
In January, when George W. Bush's pollster warned that "Enron is a much
bigger story than anyone in Washington realizes," White House political
director Karl Rove informed the Republican National Committee that this
fall's election would have to be about national security rather than the
economy. Rove wasn't practicing political rocket science; he was merely
echoing the common-sense calculations of veteran Republican strategists
like Jack Pitney, who says, "If voters go to the polls with corporate
scandals at the top of their list, they're probably going to vote
Democratic. If they go [thinking about] the war on terrorism and taxes,"
Republicans have the advantage. Now, with the election that will set the
course for the second half of Bush's term less than two months away,
Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, National Security
Adviser Rice and every other Republican with a talking-head permit is
busy making the improbable case for war with Iraq.
Rove's sly strategy appears to be working. On September 4, the day
Congress returned from its summer break, the Dow Jones average plunged
355 points. Yet the next morning's headlines talked about how Bush would
"put the case for action in Iraq to key lawmakers." Whether Bush
actually believes that the war he's promoting is necessary--or even
marketable--there's no question that Republican prospects are aided by
the fact that he's talking about Saddam Hussein rather than Enron,
WorldCom, Harken, Halliburton, deficits, layoffs and 401(k)atastrophes.
There is, however, some question as to why Democrats are allowing Rove's
scenario to play out so smoothly. Along with those questions comes the
fear that unless the supposed party of opposition finds its voice soon,
Democrats could squander opportunities not only to stop a senseless and
unnecessary war but also to hold the Senate and wrest control of the
House from the right in November.
So far, however, most of the coherent Congressional challenges to the
Bush strategy have been initiated by Republicans worried about the
threat a war would pose to the domestic economy (House majority leader
Dick Armey) or who actually listen to the State Department (Jim Leach, a
key player on the House International Relations Committee). While Bush
and Rove have had trouble keeping their GOP comrades in line, they've
had more luck with Democrats. Only a handful of Democrats, like
Progressive Caucus chair Dennis Kucinich, have echoed Armey's blunt
criticisms of the rush to war. A few more have chimed in with practical
arguments against the Administration line, a view perhaps best expressed
by Martin Sabo of Minnesota, who says that "to move into a country and
say we're going to topple the government and take over the
government--and I think inherent in that is also 'run it'--is not
something we have ever proved very capable of doing."
But House Democratic opposition has been muddled by the fact that
minority leader Dick Gephardt has positioned himself as an enthusiastic
backer of "regime change" in Iraq. One senior member of his caucus says,
"You can pin most of the blame on Gephardt. If he hadn't been so
enthusiastic about going to war when the Bush people brought this up in
the first place, I think they would have backed off." Acknowledging that
Gephardt's position could make it difficult to hold off a House vote in
October, Kucinich says, "I think it could all come down to how Daschle
handles the issue."
Senate majority leader Tom Daschle is not doing Bush as many favors as
Gephardt--Daschle at least says Congress needs more information. But the
Senate's leader has yet to echo likely 2004 Democratic presidential
candidate Senator John Kerry's suggestion that a policy of containment
would be sufficient to manage any threat posed by Iraq, let alone to
express the steady skepticism of Senate Armed Services Committee chair
Carl Levin, who left a meeting at which Rumsfeld tried to make the case
for war and said, "I don't think [the Administration] added anything."
Daschle's caution is rooted in his concern that a misstep on issues of
war and patriotism could jeopardize his continued leadership of the
Senate. It's a legitimate worry; his one-seat majority could well be
endangered if flag-waving appeals take hold--as they have before--in
Senate battleground states like Arkansas, Missouri, Louisiana, Georgia,
North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Daschle's own South Dakota.
But Daschle's caution is not making things easier for Democrats in those
states. It has simply left him playing Karl Rove's game when he should
be saying what most Americans know: that in the absence of any credible
evidence of an immediate and quantifiable threat from Iraq, Congress
should not get bogged down in this issue. Moving aggressively to shift
the focus from Iraq to corporate wrongdoing and economic instability
would be smart politics for Daschle and the Democrats. More important,
calling the President's bluff on Iraq would slow the rush toward a
senseless war while freeing Congress to debate genuine threats to