In the tradition of the late Paul Tsongas, the former Massachusetts senator who in 1991 launched a decidedly uphill run for the Democratic presidential nomination and succeeded in making his concerns about deficit spending central to the national discourse, another former U.S. senator will launch a presidential campaign Monday that seeks to highlight big ideas -- in this case about the Constitution and direct democracy.
Mike Gravel, who represented Alaska as a maverick Democratic Senate from 1969 to 1981, will announce his candidacy for the Democratic nomination with a press conference at the National Press Club.
Gravel came to national prominence in 1971, during the struggle over the Pentagon Papers, the secret official study that detailed how missteps and manipulations by successive U.S. administrations and their agents had created the quagmire that was the Vietnam War. Daniel Ellsberg, a military analyst, provoked a national uproar when he put the report in the hands of the New York Times, which published portions of it in June of that year. The Justice Department moved to block further publication of information from the Pentagon Papers and to punish newspaper publishers who revealed the contents. At that point, Gravel, a war critic, stepped in. The senator tried to read the contents of the study into the Senate record and to release them to the public, arguing that he had the authority to do so as a senator communicating with his constituents. He then sought to publish the papers in book form as The Senator Gravel Edition, The Pentagon Papers [Beacon Press]. When Justice Department went after the senator and his publisher, Gravel fought the case all the way to the Supreme Court. While lower courts expressed sympathy for the Gravel's stance, the high court rejected his claim that as a senator he had a right and a responsibility to share official documents with his constituents. Fortunately for Gravel, publicity surrounding the case was so damning to the administration's position that it finally backed off.
The Pentagon Papers battle was a classic Mike Gravel fight. A scrappy former speaker of the Alaska House of Representatives, the senator had little patience with the secrecy and compromises of official Washington. An unrelenting critic of nuclear weapons testing on the Alaskan island of Amchitka, he came to the Capitol prepared to take on presidents and fellow senators, and he did so repeatedly. Gravel clashed not just with the Nixon administration but with fellow Democrats who counseled a more cautious approach to a president who, before Watergate, was perceived as being both popular and powerful. It was Gravel who in 1971, against the advice of Democratic leaders in the Senate, launched a one-man filibuster to end the peactime military draft, forcing the administration to cut a deal that allowed the draft to expire in 1973.
In 1972, Gravel sought the Democratic nomination for vice president, winning the votes of 226 delegates at the Miami convention that nominated George McGovern for president. He would be reelected to the Senate with ease in the "Watergate election" of 1974, only to be defeated in the Reagan landslide of 1980.
In recent years, Gravel has been an outspoken advocate for democratic reforms, particularly a Constitutional amendment that would allow for national referendums on major public policy issues. He is, as well, a proponent of radical tax reform initiatives, such as the replacement of corporate and individual income taxes with a 23 percent national sales tax on goods and services.
Gravel plans to talk about those reforms in his campaign for the Democratic nod, but he will also highlight his passionate opposition to the Iraq War, which he frequently compares to Vietnam, and to the secrecy and dishonesty of the Bush administration, which he suggests is worse in many senses than what he saw during the Nixon years.
After the indictment last fall of Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, I. "Scooter" Libby, as part of the ongoing investigation of moves by the Bush-Cheney administration to punish former Ambassador Joe Wilson for revealing that the president's arguments for going to war with Iraq were unfounded, Gravel said. "This is much more serious [than many of the fights over Nixon's wrongdoing]. What we are talking about here is actually a conspiracy of elements of the Bush administration to hoodwink, or lie, to the American people, so that they could go to war in Iraq. Of course that whole process took advantage of the Congress, and the American people, and the American media."
Though his record is impressive, and his ideas are worthy of discussion, Gravel probably faces an even greater challenge as a 2008 presidential contender than did Tsongas in 1992. Tsongas had been out of the Senate for less than a decade and was still a relatively young man when he waded into a much more fluid contest for the Democratic nomination against former President George Herbert Walker Bush. Gravel left the Capitol more than a quarter century ago and is now 75. He also faces the prospect that at least one current senator who shares many of his concerns about the war and official secrecy, Wisconsin's Russ Feingold, will be in the running. Feingold, who travels to Iowa later this month, has a much higher profile -- especially since he proposed censuring the president -- and is raising money and hiring staff at an aggressive clip.
But Gravel is experience, articulate and, above all, gutsy. And if he gets into a few of the higher-profile debates with Feingold and a group of other Democrats that could include New York Senator Hillary Clinton, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, former North Carolina Senator John Edwards and others, the former senator from Alaska will hold his own. At the very least Mike Gravel begins with the promise, like that offered by Paul Tsongas back in the early 1990s, that with him in the running the Democratic debates are likely to be broader and better than they would be without him.
Last week I wrote about the efforts of Representative Sherrod Brown and others to change a system in which the federal minimum wage has been frozen for eight years at $5.15 an hour, while a corporate CEO earns $13,700 an hour.
But this week there were some hopeful signs--Arkansas raised its state minimum wage to $6.25 an hour. And today the most popular woman in America--Oprah--will feature the struggles of minimum wage workers who earn a maximum of approximately $10,000 annually, and the growing coalition of organizations working to make certain that a hard day's work receives a fair day's pay.
Perhaps if the Republican Congress won't listen to America they will listen to Oprah. Stranger things have happened (why it was only weeks ago that George Bush attempted to wax – while not exactly eloquent--wax interested about America's addiction to oil).
With 86 percent of Americans in favor of an increase in the wage, this much is clear: no one wants leaders who turn a blind eye to people now forced to live out of their cars; working two and three jobs and still not making ends meet; and an increasingly squeezed middle class that is a stone's throw away from financial ruin.
And if Congress won't listen – not even to Oprah – then make sure they listen on Election Day. In the meantime, get involved on the local level to continue changing things for the better--state-by-state.
Nation Event Note
The Nation is visiting Yale University on Wednesday, April 26, 2006. Click here for details on a free public event, sponsored by the Roosevelt Institute, featuring Nation editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel.
Giving voice to the majority of Americans who support the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, the antiwar coalition Bring Them Home Now! has created a thirty-nine cent postage stamp. Yes, they're real. Apparently, pretty much anyone can create legal tender stamps with images of their choosing.
The new antiwar stamp features the symbol of the growing "Bring 'Em Home Now!" movement – a yellow ribbon transposed over a peace sign – providing millions of Americans with a unique way to show support for a pullout. The response so far has been strong. The first run of 10,000 stamps sold out quickly and the second batch of 10,000 is selling briskly.
Bring 'Em Home Now! suggests sending in antiwar-stamped tax returns in a symbolic protest against the $250 billion in taxpayer dollars spent on the war to date. At the same time you'll be raising money for veterans' groups. All proceeds from the sale of the stamps (as well as shirts, buttons and stickers featuring the popular "Bring 'Em Home Now!" designs) benefit citizen groups working to end the war, including Military Families Speak Out, Gold Star Families for Peace, Iraq Veterans Against the War, and Veterans for Peace.
Finally, click here for info on antiwar protests planned for April 29. A major march is expected in New York City, kicking off in Manhattan at 12:00 noon, just north of Union Square, and proceeding south along Broadway to Foley Square, where a Peace and Justice Festival will hold sway all afternoon.
H.O.P.E. for Darfur
Nothing I can write can describe the trouble the Sudanese people have seen. Everyone knows it's genocide but little gets done. And it's not for lack of ideas. Human Rights First recently launched a H.O.P.E. (Help Organize a Peace Envoy) for Darfur Campaign. Many argue that Sudan needs not only the peacekeeping forces of the African Union and perhaps the UN, but also a peacemaker in the form of a high-level, visible Peace Envoy. Human Rights First's campaign, in keeping with that idea, calls for a high-profile leader whose entry into the process could signal a new resolve by the international community to address the slaughter. Ideally, this new envoy would be appointed by the United Nations and strongly supported by the United States.
I try not to subscribe to the great-man theory of history, but one individual sometimes really can make a difference. The Bush Administration dispatched John Danforth to Sudan to help successfully negotiate a peace between the Khartoum government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement four years ago. The Clinton Administration turned to George Mitchell to negotiate the Good Friday agreement in Northern Ireland.
So click here to sign Human Rights First's petition calling for a UN-appointed diplomat of the highest international stature to lead a peace process in Darfur and click here for background on the horrifying situation in Sudan.
This Wednesday, April 19, our friends at the New York Society for Ethical Culture are hosting a terrific event in conjunction with Human Rights First and Amnesty International USA. Click here for details on the free discussion on how to end the atrocities in Darfur featuring Nicholas Kristof, Mark Malloch Brown, Juan Mendez and Tragi Musfafa.
The Lonesome Death of Rachel Corrie
The New York Theatre Workshop's cowardly decision to back off from a play based on Rachel Corrie's life has been widely publicized. (The show is currently in its third staging in London--this time on the West End, where it's playing to packed houses and good reviews.) The first musical take on Corrie that I've heard comes, appropriately, from Billy Bragg, who adapted Bob Dylan's classic, the Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll, to tell the story of her life and death. Click here to listen to and download the Lonesome Death of Rachel Corrie.
Nation Event Note
The Nation is visiting Yale University on Wednesday, April 26, 2006. Click here for details on a free public event, sponsored by the Roosevelt Institute, featuring Nation editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel.
"Clearly the trick in life is to die young as late as possible," Reverend William Sloane Coffin From his last book, Credo.
Reverend William Sloane Coffin died Wednesday at the age of 81.
Bill Coffin, as his friends knew him, was one of our greatest and most eloquent prophetic voices. For more than forty years, his passionate calls for peace, social justice, civil rights, and an end to nuclear insanity challenged this nation's conscience.
While Chaplain of Yale University in the 1960s, Coffin emerged as an indomitable opponent of the Vietnam War. A leader of the draft resistance movement, a proponent of civil disobedience, Coffin and four other antiwar activists (including Dr. Benjamin Spock) challenged provisions of the Selective Service Act. Tried in 1968, Coffin, Dr. Spock and two of the other three were convicted of conspiracy, but the verdicts were overturned on appeal. In 1978, Coffin was called to the very visible pulpit of Riverside Church and as its Minister led the church into the center of the antinuclear movement. (He was also immortalized as the offbeat Rev. Scot Sloan in Doonesbury. )Though slowed by a stroke he suffered in 1999, Coffin spoke out against the Iraq war and, just last October, he founded a religious organization calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons.
Over the years, Coffin contributed to The Nation. Occasionally, he'd call to propose an idea or offer a perspective on events gripping his imagination. He knew I spoke some Russian so he'd playfully use his--acquired during World War II when he entered a Russian language program in military intelligence. Because of his facility with languages, Coffin was made a liaison to the Russian army and, in 1946, he took part in operations to forcibly repatriate Soviet citizens who had been taken prisoner. He forever repented for this episode, writing in his memoir that it "left me a burden of guilt, I am sure to carry the rest of my life." That burden, he later said, influenced his decision to spend three years in the CIA opposing Stalin's regime. But Coffin was quick to tell you that while he was anti-Soviet he was also very 'pro-Russian."
I have a vivid memory of Coffin, when he officiated at my wedding in 1988, singing along with a mournful Russian ballad we chose to play--a song written by a man whose father and other familymembers had either perished or spent years in Stalin's gulag.
A few years ago, James Carroll wrote of Coffin's gospel, "...What a gospel it was. The world he described was upside-down; the church on the side of the poor; the powerful at risk for losing everything; the disenfranchised as sole custodians of moral legitimacy. Coffin, in his passionate sermon that day, was perhaps the first person from which you heard that defining question: Whose side are you on?"
In our latest issue Dan Wakefield remembers Coffin's work --and that of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Father Daniel Berrigan and Rabbi Abraham Heschel--in battling racism, unjust war, nuclear proliferation, poverty and threats to civil liberties. "Their inspiring example, " Wakefield writes, "raises a disturbing question: Where are their counterparts now?"
In these last months, Wakefield traveled around the country putting that question to religious leaders and lay people, "trying to understand what has brought us to the political-religious crisis of our time and what, if anything, is being done about it." When Wakefield asks "who is the contemporary equivalent of Coffin...several mainline Christians sighed and said. 'Well, I guess--Coffin."
Bill Coffin's great friend Cora Weiss called Wednesday night. Cora was Bill's closest ally in all of the important struggles for peace and social justice in these last years. "I called Bill a few days ago to read him Wakefield's piece over the phone. The whole thing. At the end, I said, 'Bill, you can't go. Dan Wakefieldsays there's no one to replace you." Coffin told Cora, "He'll find out soon enough," intimating, for the first time Cora says, that he was beginning to fade. But, as she reminds,"conscience never stops."
Nor do the lessons of a man who was full of wit, fire, passion, joy, courage and commitment as he preached and worked to better the world. " I like to believe that I am an American patriot who loves his country enough to address her flaws," Coffin wrote in the introduction to his last book. "Today these are many and all the preachers worth their salt need fearlessly to insist that 'God'n' country' is not one word."
What will the U.S. do about Iran? Sanction? Bomb? Invade?
How about... nothing.
That's right, nothing.
So suggests a Republican member of the U.S. House who has been sounding the alarm in Congress about the rush to act against what he dismisses as nothing more than "the next neocon target."
"There is no evidence of a threat to us by Iran, and no reason to plan and initiate a confrontation with her," argues Representative Ron Paul, the conservative from Texas who has in recent weeks voiced the loudest and most consistent objections to attempts by the Bush administration and its allies in Congress to suggest that U.S. military action may be needed to avert a supposed nuclear threat from the country.
An "Old Right" Republican with a long libertarian streak who has been repeatedly reelected from a Texas district where American flags wave in the breezes blowing off the Gulf of Mexico, and where the word "patriot" is taken seriously by the congressman and his constituents, Paul offers the answer to the despairing question of whether there is anyone in Congress who recognizes that the course proposed by the Bush administration and its neoconservative gurus is one of sheer madness.
Instead of planning an attack, the Texas Republican argues, "There are many reasons not to do so."
In a detailed address delivered on the floor of the House last week, Paul detailed them:
Iran does not have a nuclear weapon and there's no evidence that she is working on one -- only conjecture.
If Iran had a nuclear weapon, why would this be different from Pakistan, India, and North Korea having one? Why does Iran have less right to a defensive weapon than these other countries?
If Iran had a nuclear weapon, the odds of her initiating an attack against anybody-- which would guarantee her own annihilation-- are zero. And the same goes for the possibility she would place weapons in the hands of a non-state terrorist group.
Pakistan has spread nuclear technology throughout the world, and in particular to the North Koreans. They flaunt international restrictions on nuclear weapons. But we reward them just as we reward India.
We needlessly and foolishly threaten Iran even though they have no nuclear weapons. But listen to what a leading Israeli historian, Martin Van Creveld, had to say about this: "Obviously, we don't want Iran to have a nuclear weapon, and I don't know if they're developing them, but if they're not developing them, they're crazy."
There's been a lot of misinformation regarding Iran's nuclear program. This distortion of the truth has been used to pump up emotions in Congress to pass resolutions condemning her and promoting UN sanctions.
IAEA Director General Mohamed El Baradi has never reported any evidence of 'undeclared' sources or special nuclear material in Iran, or any diversion of nuclear material.
We demand that Iran prove it is not in violation of nuclear agreements, which is asking them impossibly to prove a negative. El Baradi states Iran is in compliance with the nuclear NPT required IAEA safeguard agreement.
We forget that the weapons we feared Saddam Hussein had were supplied to him by the U.S., and we refused to believe UN inspectors and the CIA that he no longer had them.
Likewise, Iran received her first nuclear reactor from us. Now we're hysterically wondering if someday she might decide to build a bomb in self interest.
Anti-Iran voices, beating the drums of confrontation, distort the agreement made in Paris and the desire of Iran to restart the enrichment process. Their suspension of the enrichment process was voluntary, and not a legal obligation. Iran has an absolute right under the NPT (nuclear proliferation treaty) to develop and use nuclear power for peaceful purposes, and this is now said to be an egregious violation of the NPT. It's the U.S. and her allies that are distorting and violating the NPT. Likewise our provision of nuclear materials to India is a clear violation of the NPT.
Noting that the same neoconservatives who steered the United States into the quagmire that is Iraq now want to start a new preemptive war with Iran -- not because a fight in needed but in order to achieve the regime change they desire -- Paul says what ought to be the official line of all rational observers of the situation: "Hysterical fear of Iran is way out of proportion to reality."
The Texas Republican, who opposed the rush to war with Iraq in 2002 and remains a steadfast critic of the endeavor, also proposes the rational counter to neoconservative calls for a new war.
With a policy of containment, we stood down and won the Cold War against the Soviets and their 30,000 nuclear weapons and missiles. If you're looking for a real kook with a bomb to worry about, North Korea would be high on the list. Yet we negotiate with Kim Jong Il. Pakistan has nukes and was a close ally of the Taliban up until 9/11. Pakistan was never inspected by the IAEA as to their military capability. Yet we not only talk to her, we provide economic assistance-- though someday Musharraf may well be overthrown and a pro-al Qaeda government put in place. We have been nearly obsessed with talking about regime change in Iran, while ignoring Pakistan and North Korea. It makes no sense and it's a very costly and dangerous policy.
The conclusion we should derive from this is simple: It's in our best interest to pursue a foreign policy of non-intervention. A strict interpretation of the Constitution mandates it. The moral imperative of not imposing our will on others, no matter how well intentioned, is a powerful argument for minding our own business. The principle of self-determination should be respected. Strict non-intervention removes the incentives for foreign powers and corporate interests to influence our policies overseas. We can't afford the cost that intervention requires, whether through higher taxes or inflation. If the moral arguments against intervention don't suffice for some, the practical arguments should.
Intervention just doesn't work. It backfires and ultimately hurts American citizens both at home and abroad. Spreading ourselves too thin around the world actually diminishes our national security through a weakened military. As the superpower of the world, a constant interventionist policy is perceived as arrogant, and greatly undermines our ability to use diplomacy in a positive manner.
Conservatives, libertarians, constitutionalists, and many of today's liberals have all at one time or another endorsed a less interventionist foreign policy. There's no reason a coalition of these groups might not once again present the case for a pro-American, non-militant, non-interventionist foreign policy dealing with all nations. A policy of trade and peace, and a willingness to use diplomacy, is far superior to the foreign policy that has evolved over the past 60 years.
It's time for a change.
Indeed, it is.
Where to begin? How about with the Democrats in Congress?
Isn't it time for the so-called "opposition party" to start talking as much sense about Iran as a member of the president's own party?
In Time magazine this week, Joe Klein describes how John Kerry responded to the revelations of torture at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison in May 2004 by holding a focus group in Arkansas. Afterwards, Klein writes, "The consultants were unanimous in their recommendations to the candidate: Don't talk about it. So Kerry didn't, "never once mentioning Abu Ghraib--or the Justice Department memo that 'broadened' accepted interrogations techniques--in his acceptance speech or, remarkably, in his three debates with Bush."
For the man who earned a following protesting atrocities in Vietnam, torture was off the table. I mention this anecdote because at a breakfast today with Howard Dean sponsored by The American Prospect, a cast member from the play Guantanamo asked Dean about the Democratic Party's position on another detention facility widely viewed as illegal under international law.
"We don't have a Democratic Party position," Dean admitted. "I've never had a discussion about it with [Harry] Reid and [Nancy] Pelosi."
That frank response surprised a number of reporters in the room. Jane Mayer, who's reported extensively on the topic for The New Yorker, followed up by asking Dean why the stunning news of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib, Gitmo and the notorious CIA black sites overseas received only a "fleeting reference" in the new Democratic national security plan.
"There are an enormous number of issues," Dean said, and he worried Democrats were already talking about too many. Dean labeled the situation in Sudan's Darfur region as "clearly genocide," for instance, "but when it comes to Democrats ability to communicate with the American people, it gets dropped."
That's too bad. Democrats often speak too much about specific issues and not enough about broad values. Nothing is more immoral than genocide and torture. Democrats should say so loudly.
(PS: I'll have more of what Dean said at the breakfast later today.)
As the Los Angeles Times reported on Saturday, this much is known to be true: On November 19, after a roadside bomb killed Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas, 15 Iraqi civilians – including seven women and three children – were allegedly shot and killed by a unit of US Marines operating in Haditha, Iraq. Then, this past Friday, a battalion commander and two company commanders from the same unit were relieved of their duties.
We also know that the Marine Corps initially claimed that the 15 Iraqi civilians were killed by a roadside bomb. But in January, after Time magazine presented the military with Iraqi accounts and video proof of the attack's aftermath, officials acknowledged that the civilians were killed by Marines but blamed insurgents nonetheless who had "placed noncombatants in the line of fire."
However, video evidence shows that women and children were shot in their homes while still wearing nightclothes. And while there are no bullet holes outside the houses to support the military's assertion of a firefight with insurgents, "inside the houses…the walls and ceilings are pockmarked with shrapnel and bullet holes as well as the telltale spray of blood."
The Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) has launched a criminal investigation to determine whether the civilians were intentionally massacred by Marines. A second investigation will explore the initial misleading explanations of the killings.
US media coverage of the Haditha allegations has been startlingly limited. In addition to the Time investigation, AP reporter Bassem Mroue has followed the case and Knight-Ridder reporter Nancy A. Youssef has written an article as well. That's it. Much has been written in the UK press and in English-language papers around the world.
And while the NCIS investigation is still pending, circumstances surrounding the events of November 19 are strikingly similar to an "atrocity-producing situation," as described by Pulitzer Prize-winning war reporter and Nation Institute Fellow, Chris Hedges.
In Yes! Magazine's Winter 2005 issue, Hedges describes, "You have an elusive enemy. You're not fighting a set organized force…So you very rarely see your attacker, and this builds up a great deal of frustration. This frustration is compounded by the fact that you live in an environment where you are almost universally despised. Everyone becomes the enemy. And… after, for instance, somebody in your unit is killed by a sniper who melts back into the slums where the shot was fired from--it becomes easy to carry out acts of revenge against people who are essentially innocent, but who you view as culpable in some way for the death of your comrades."
One hopes that the NCIS investigation will be thorough and will reveal the facts about what exactly happened on November 19. But judging from the scapegoating and inaction in torture cases, what are the chances of any real accountability?
As Hedges notes of his experiences, "One of the frustrating things for those of us who have spent so much time in war zones is to come back and see how those who are guiltiest--those who pushed the country into war, who told the lies that perpetuated the war--are never held accountable. And those who suffer the most, those who endure the trauma and have to live with the memories for the rest of their lives, are blamed unjustly."
Now we know why Tom DeLay decided to quit Congress. It wasn't becausehe resigned as Majority Leader last September in advance of his moneylaundering trial in Texas. Or because his Abramoff-connected aidesran what the Washington Post dubbed "a far-reaching criminalenterprise operating out of DeLay's office." Or because was going tolose his re-election race this November.
No, it was because of the Lord. From Peter Perl's devastatingWP article on Sunday:
DeLay recently told one of his pastors that God wanted him to leaveCongress in part because He has bigger plans for DeLay. That pastor,the Rev. Rick Scarborough, introduced DeLay to a Christian conferencejust last week, saying, "This is a man, I believe, God hasappointed . . . to represent righteousness in government."
No, this isn't coming from The Onion, but courtesy of the author ofLiberalism Kills Kids, via the "War on Christians" conference.Naturally, Scarborough's the perfect pastor for DeLay now that hisold spiritual advisor, Ed Buckham, is moving from The Hammer to theslammer. Here's the really scary part:
In DeLay's world he answers only to a higher power, and his personalArmageddon has only just begun. He will artfully squeeze a load ofmoney from the Christian Right as he makes his thunderous argumentfrom multiple pulpits in the weeks and months ahead. The new TomDeLay will combine aspects of the Revs. Pat Robertson and JerryFalwell, and Lee Atwater, the late right-wing political consultantwith the legendary killer instinct.
Let me posit an alternate explanation. Now that DeLay's become a self-described sinner, it's time for him to go. Let us pray that hefinds salvation from a prison cell.
"We have won, and now we have to start working to implement our program and unify the country," Romano Prodi told Italians after the official count confirmed from that country's national elections confirmed exit polls showing Prodi's center-left coalition had deposed the government of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who had allied Italy with George W. Bush's foreign policies.
With his Olive Tree coalition of moderate Christian Democrats, liberals, Greens, Socialists, former Communists and Communists on track to gain solid control of the lower of the two houses of the Italian Parliament, the Chamber of Deputies, and a narrow majority in the upper house, the Senate, Prodi says he is positioned to begin to implement an ambitious agenda. If all goes as planned, one of the new prime minister's first moves will be to pull Italy's contingent of 2,600 troops out of Iraq.
That will deprive the Bush administration's "coalition of the willing" occupation force in Iraq of its fourth largest contingent.
The Italian withdrawal will be the latest blow to the administration spin that suggests the occupation is a multinational initiative. A score of countries have withdrawn their troops or are in the process of doing so. Many of the exits were hastened by elections that -- as in Italy this week -- saw voters chose political leaders and parties that promised to quit the coalition.
With Italy out, only three countries -- the U.S., Great Britain and South Korea -- will have more than 1,000 troops on the ground in Iraq.
The Italian exit is expected to come quickly.
Prodi's coalition promised during the campaign to implement an immediate withdrawal and, in nationally-televised debate last week he spelled out how it will work. "When we go to the government we'll decide for a speedy pullout of the troops, in secure conditions, talking with the Iraqi authorities," said Prodi, who explained that his priority would be to implement the exit strategy "as soon as possible."
Prodi could have a hard time implementing much of his program, as the close divide in the Senate and his own unwieldy coalition are likely to make governing difficult. But the process of getting Italian troops home will be eased by the fact that many member of Berlusconi's coalition also favor withdrawal. Indeed, in an attempt to diffuse the war issue during the recent campaign, Berlusconi, himself, had suggested that he would try to get Italian troops out of Iraq by the end of the year.
After the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, President Bush and his supporters spent a great deal of time talking about a "coalition of the willing" that at one time included four dozen countries. The president's use of the term "coalition" was always something of a misnomer, as it suggested a great deal of shared responsibility, when in fact the overwhelming majority of troops on the ground were from the U.S. Aside from the U.S. and Great Britain, no country ever had more than 5,000 troops in Iraq, and many of the coalition "partners" never had more than 100 troops in the country. Additionally, some of the largest troops contingents came from countries in eastern and central Europe that had been coerced to join the coalition by the U.S., which promised support for their efforts to integrate into international economic and political organizations in return for the commitment of troops to Iraq.
The president makes few references to his "coalition of the willing" these days because the coalition has been crumbling. Among the countries that have exited the coalition are Singapore (in January 2004), Nicaragua (February 2004); Spain (April 2004); Dominican Republic (May 2004); Honduras (May 2004); Norway (June 2004), Philippines (July 2004); Thailand (August 2004); New Zealand (September 2004); Tonga (December 2004) Hungary (December 2004); Portugal (February 2005); Moldova (February 2005); Netherlands (June 2005), Ukraine (December 2005) and Bulgaria (January 2006).Compared with the U.S. casualty rate, the Italians have suffered relatively few losses in Iraq.
But those losses have been deeply felt, as they have been in other coalition countries. Twenty-seven Italian soldiers died in Iraq, according to a CNN count. That's out of a coalition death toll, as of April 10 of 2,560 -- 2,353 of them Americans, one Australian, 103 Britons, 13 Bulgarians, three Danes, two Dutch, two Estonians, one Fijian, one Hungarian, one Kazakh, one Latvian, 17 Poles, two Salvadoran, three Slovaks, 11 Spaniards, two Thai and 18 Ukrainians.
Prodi has always said that the Italian death toll was 27 too many.
Prodi, a former prime minister, reentered Italian politics two years ago -- after serving as president of the European Commission -- when he backed a campaign against Italian participation in the coalition that used the slogan: "Iraq: A Wrongful War." Now, as the prime minister once more, Prodi will be able to implement the promise of that campaign by withdrawing Italian troops from the coalition and by further confirming that the ongoing occupation of Iraq is George W. Bush's project -- as opposed to that of a genuine "coalition of the willing."
After all the breathless suspense, after all the effort federal agents spent trying to seal a national security breach, after all the fingers were pointed directly at the Vice-President, last week it was revealed that the President of the United States, who everyone had previously thought was way too clueless to be involved, was behind the scandal the entire time. Yes, I'm talking about President Logan on Fox's long-running hit show 24.
How life imitates art.
In the long-running Washington DC tragicomic reality show The Bushies, it was also revealed last week that it was President George W. Bush who was behind the leak that led to the uncovering of CIA agent Valerie Plame's undercover identity.
Whatever the legality of his actions, it is clear that he lied to the American public when he pretended not to know who was responsible for the leak. Instead of clearing up the matter three years ago, Bush's belligerence cost the American tax-payers millions of dollars as Patrick Fitzgerald, the prosecutorial version of Jack Bauer, wasted three years sending reporters to jail to track the deceit back to the highest office in the land.
Bush promised to fire the leaker. If he was a man of his word, he would resign. But we know he is not.