The Nation

It's Not a 'War' on Terror

It's time to stop calling the post 9/11 struggle against terrorism a "war." The struggle against stateless terrorists is not the same thing. And framing it as a war was a conscious decision made by Bush and Karl Rove and others in the first days after 9/11.

Rove understood that if the indefinite struggle against terror was generally framed as a "war," it would become the master narrative of American politics giving the GOP the chance to achieve "a structural advantage, perhaps in perpetuity" over Democrats. That advantage may be coming to an end.

Nevertheless, the "war" metaphor--as retired American Ambassador Ronald Spiers wrote in a provocative piece in March 2004 in Vermont's Rutland Herald, "is neither accurate nor innocuous, implying as it does that there is an end point of either victory or defeat.... A 'war on terrorism' is a war without an end in sight, without an exit strategy, with enemies specified not by their aims but by their tactics.... The President has found this 'war' useful as an all-purpose justification for almost anything he wants or doesn't want to do; fuzziness serves the administration politically. It brings to mind Big Brother's vague and never-ending war in Orwell's 1984. A war on terrorism is a permanent engagement against an always-available tool."

It's easy to see how this Administration has used the "war" as justification for almost anything--abusing international human rights standards, unlawfully detaining thousands of women and men, condoning torture.

Labor rights have also been rolled back on behalf of the "war." Remember that Orwellian statement by the Undersecretary of the Treasury for Security in announcing that the Administration had denied 60,000 airport security screeners their collective bargaining rights. "Mandatory collective bargaining," retired Admiral James Loy said, "is not compatible with the flexibility required to wage the war on terrorism."

As I watched the celebration of Washington's WWII memorial just two years after 9/11, I was reminded of how, during the despair of World War II, a greater threat to the existence of our country than what we face today, President Roosevelt gave America a vision of hope--not fear. Just a decade earlier, during the Great Depression, another grave threat to the country's spirit and unity, Roosevelt told a fearful nation that we had nothing to fear but fear itself. Today, we have a President and his team working overtime to convince the American people--through a barrage of historically inaccurate analogies--that there is nothing to fear but the end of fear itself.

Yes, we all live in the shadow of September 11--a crime of monumental magnitude. But terrorism is not an enemy that threatens the existence of our nation; our response should not undermine the very values that define America for ourselves and the rest of the world.

This Administration has shamelessly exploited America's fear of terrorism for political purposes. But a hyper-militarized war without end will do more to weaken our democracy, and foster a new national security state, than seriously address the threats ahead. After all, what we are engaged in is not primarily a military operation. It's an intelligence-gathering operation, a law-enforcement, public-diplomacy effort.

Yet few political leaders have the courage to say that what we face is not a "war" on terrorism, or that this President, as Ambassador Spiers said, "has found this 'war' an all-purpose justification for almost anything he wants or doesn't want to do." But by failing to challenge the "war" framing, we allow it to seep into the national psyche and let Rove & Co. get away with couching virtually all foreign policy discourse in terms of terrorism. The media also plays a role: "War" is the term used routinely not only by Fox "news" anchors and pundits but also in our top print outlets. It's then amplified in sensationalized TV wall-to-wall graphics.

As Shirin Ebadi, a champion of women and children's rights, the first Muslim woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize and someone who has stood up to the fundamentalists in her native land of Iran, said a few years ago: "Governments don't just repress people with false interpretations of religion; sometimes they do it with false cant about national security."

Ho-hum, Another $63 Billion

How humdrum can you get? My hometown paper, the New York Times, today reported that the Senate had approved "$63 billion More for War in Iraq" in a 7-paragraph Associated Press piece at the bottom of page 20. As the fourth paragraph of the piece began, you could find out the evidently even less interesting news that "with the latest infusion of money, Congress will have approved about $500 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and other antiterrorism efforts in the five years since the September 11 attacks, according to the Congressional Research Service."

For the 13-paragraph story that sits above and dominates it, "Wedding Off, Jilted Bride Turns Party Into a Benefit," the Times actually sent out a reporter, Stephanie Strom. It's an impressive numbers piece too. "One hundred and eighty guests had tickets from all over the country and the Virgin Islands to come and make a weekend of my wedding," said the jilted bride, Kyle Paxman before she found out her prospective groom was "cheating on her." Stuck with the reception costs anyway, she invited 125 women guests, all expected to write checks to charity, and so began "empowering herself" and launching "the healing process."

Perhaps Ms. Paxman could give the Bush administration a few tips on how to extricate yourself from a sticky situation.

Armitage Confesses--and Prompts a Question for Rove

On Thursday, Richard Armitage went on CBS News and confessed: he was the original source for the Robert Novak column that outed Valerie Wilson as a CIA officer. He apologized to Valerie and Joseph Wilson. In an interview with The New York Times, Armitage said, "It was a terrible error on my part. There wasn't a day when I didn't feel like I had let down the president, the secretary of state, my colleagues, my family and the Wilsons. I value my ability to keep state secrets. This was bad, and I really felt badly about this."

Armitage is coming forward now because the book I co-wrote with Michael Isikoff of Newsweek, HUBRIS: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, disclosed Armitage's role and quoted named sources at the State Department confirming Armitage's role as the leaker. Armitage says that he kept his silence all these years because special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald had asked him not to say anything. But after our book triggered a splash of news reports, Armitage asked Fitzgerald if he could go public, and he obtained Fitzgerald's consent.

Which brings me to a rather simple question: When will Karl Rove do the same?

He is no longer under investigation. But he did play a critical role in the leak case by confirming Armitage's information for Novak and then (before the Novak column appeared) leaking the same classified information to Matt Cooper of Time, as part of a campaign to discredit Joseph Wilson. (Hubris--which chronicles the behind-the-scenes battles in the CIA, the White House and Congress in the run-up to the war--has new details on Rove and Scooter Libby's efforts to undermine Wilson.) So will Rove now explain precisely what he did and why he did it, as Armitage has? Is he willing to admit he mishandled state secrets? Is he also sorry? Will he apologize to anyone?

Once upon a time, President Bush said he wanted the truth about the leak to come out. Libby, who is facing indictment for having allegedly lied to FBI agents and a grand jury about his involvement in the leak episode, may feel he is in no position to emulate Armitage. But Rove is not so encumbered.

What reason might Rove have for not following Armitage's lead?

A Most Ridiculous Lawsuit

Back when watching Bill O'Reilly was still fun -- before he became a creepy, obsessive nativist -- I enjoyed a feature called "The Most Ridiculous Item of the Day." (He's become such a sour, humorless ideologue that this segment now falls flat.) Allow me to steal the concept for a moment. Today's most ridiculous item, hands-down, is the report that readers are suing James Frey -- the author of the (partly) invented rehab memoir A Million Little Pieces -- and his publisher, Random House, for "defrauding" them. Even sillier, Random House has reached a settlement with these whiny opportunists, and any reader who can show proof of purchase will receive a refund for the full retail price of the book ($23.95 for the hardcover, $14.95 for the paperback). The plaintiffs' lawyers who scored this one must be laughing their heads off and planning their next Ibiza vacation.

Talk about "frivolous lawsuits." Stunts like this give a bad name to class action suits that seek to redress genuine wrongs, like race or sex discrimination in the workplace, or pollution. The action against Random House also reflects an absurdly consumerist attitude toward reading: when the book -- or author -- isn't what you expected, demand your money back! Bob Woodward presents himself as a crusading muckraker -- can I get a refund for the book in which he acts as a mouthpiece for the Bush Administration? And how about all those novels and memoirs that are billed by publishers as "poignant" and "evocative" when they're actually tedious tripe? Can we send in our receipts for those, too?

A book is usually a layered, ambivalent and highly subjective experience; it's not like an iPod or a car, which either works or doesn't. Some disappointment -- even rage -- is inevitable in a well-read life. Serious, mature readers embrace and engage such reactions; they don't seek to punish anyone for them. Book buyers of America, get a grip.

Bin Laden Determined... the Prequel

Recently, researching a Nation piece (9/11 in a Movie-Made World) on the response to the attacks of 2001, I read the New York Times (as well as other newspapers) for September 12-19, five years ago. What struck me was how much of the grim world now so familiar to us managed to make it on stage and take an initial bow in those first days.

You wouldn't have recognized some of the players, however, without a scorecard that hadn't yet been issued. Here's just one striking example. On September 15, 2001, James Risen wrote a front-page Times piece, headlined, "Lawmakers See Need to Loosen Rules on C.I.A." It was all about letting the dogs of covert warfare loose on our world. He reported on the almost instant urge, not only in the Bush administration but in Congress, to nullify the Watergate-era ban on assassinating foreign leaders as well as the sudden importance of hiring "unsavory foreign agents," or as Democratic Senator Bob Graham put it (through his press spokesman), "[W]e are not going to find the kinds of spies we need in monasteries." This would, of course, turn out to be part of the Cheney program to defenestrate Vietnam/Watergate-era "reforms" that even modestly empowered Congress and create an unfettered commander-in-chief presidency.

Only when you leave the front page and make your way deep into Risen's piece, do things get truly eerie, though. In May 2004, the public learned that, one lazy August day in 2001 in Crawford, Texas, the CIA had given George Bush a one-page presidential daily briefing or PDB that was entitled "Bin Laden determined to strike in US." (The White House finally declassified the document under pressure from the 9/11 Commission.)

In the Risen article, however, was this tiny passage:

"Intelligence officials defended the performance of the C.I.A. They emphasized that while the agency had failed to provide a precise warning of the attack, it had issued repeated warnings -- one as recently as August -- that the terrorism suspect Osama bin Laden and his network were seeking to attack the domestic United States.'"

In other words, only a few days after the 9/11 attacks, someone -- assumedly in the CIA and knowledgeable -- had already leaked the dirty truth. Talk about a hidden history of our world in (almost) plain sight!

Back to Bolton

UN Ambassador John Bolton, by virtue of his recess appointment last August, is once again up for a confirmation vote in the Senate.

Bolton's nomination last year, you may recall, sparked fireworks when GOP Senator George Voinovich declined to support him and Senate Democrats blocked his nomination, prompting Bush to appoint him while Congress was in recess.

Bolton's renomination has failed to trigger as much attention, even though his record at the UN has been as abysmal as predicted by his critics. But today Senator Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar delayed a scheduled vote on Bolton to undertake "consultations with a few other senators."

The vote is off indefinitely, as of now.

My friend Mark Goldberg at TAPPED reports that Lincoln Chafee, who faces a tough primary in a few days, is likely the lone GOP hold out against Bolton. And for now committee Democrats have stood firm, even though hawkish American Jewish groups have tried to convince prominent Democrats, like Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer, that a vote against Bolton is a vote against Israel.

"I think the nomination is in deep trouble again, as it should be," says Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd.

Let's hope it stays that way.

Taking the Bait

It's disturbing how easily some in the mainstream media still fall for White House spin.

According to the media narrative following President Bush's speech, the 2006 midterms will now be decided by how to try suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, not the war in Iraq.

"With less than nine weeks until congressional elections, the president turned the topic from the war in Iraq and complaints about stagnant wages and rising health care costs to the only major area in which Americans continue to give him and the GOP high marks," wrote Susan Page of USA Today in a flattering news analysis.

"The President's detainee gambit...is given universal praise by the Gang of 500 for ensuring the fall debate will be more about who can keep America safer from terrorists, and, thus, for putting the Democrats on the defensive," opined ABC's The Note, under the headline "'W' is for 'Winner.'"

No, Bush tried to change the subject.

Fifty-five percent of respondents in a recent CNN poll said the war in Iraq has made the US less safe and more vulnerable to another terrorist attack. Fifty-three percent believe Iraq is separate from the war on terror. "One of the hardest parts of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on terror," Bush told Katie Couric yesterday.

So naturally Bush will talk about terror. But when he does, you'd expect the media--as a reflection of the American people--to remind him of the 135,000 troops that are still in Iraq instead of echoing RNC talking points.

Focus on Rumsfeld Misses the Point

Democratic members of the House and Senate wrote George Bush Monday, urging a redeployment of US troops before the end of 2006 and the firing of Donald Rumsfeld.

Some excerpts from the letter signed by the Democratic leaders, as well as ranking members from key national security committees, include: "... this current path--for our military, for the Iraqi people, and for our security--is neither working, nor making us more secure"; "... our troops are caught in the middle of a low-grade civil war that is getting worse"; "consider changing the civilian leadership at the Defense Department....While a change in your Iraq policy will best advance our chances for success, we do not believe the current civilian leadership at the Department of Defense is suited to implement and oversee such a change in policy."

This comes on the heels of Senate Democrats' plan to offer a resolution demanding Rumsfeld's resignation after the Secretary's incendiary comments in which he compared war critics to Nazi appeasers.

Of course, the Republicans remain in denial--witness Sen. Mitch McConnell who said on Face the Nation, "I think Secretary Rumsfeld has done an excellent job. He'll be remembered as one of the great secretaries of defense."

Sure, and George Bush will go down as the People's Choice for whom to turn to when a hurricane hits.

And, no surprise here, the Republicans are pulling out their favorite election-year tactics of "scare the hell out of Americans" and "demagogue whenever possible." So that Democrats' calls for a new course represent "retreat" or "waving the white flag," and will "leave Americans more vulnerable."

Here is the truth, separated from the election year spin and hyperbole: This is about Bush's failed policy, not Rummy's incompetence. It's about a fundamental, illegal war and occupation that has killed more than 2,600 American men and women, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. Incompetence does not capture the full horror or tragedy that is the Iraq War and its ethno-sectarian strife.

Instead of calling for Rumsfeld's resignation or pushing through a resolution that may, in fact, allow some GOP candidates to put distance between themselves and the President--without much consequence because this vote will fail--legislators who truly care about learning what to do next and how this occupation is failing should contact members of the platoon profiled in the New York Times on Sunday.

Based in Hit, Iraq, in Anbar Province--a "tough assignment," as the Times puts it--several of the men quoted are unsparingly outspoken. Their words are infused with a kind of despair as they question what they are doing in Iraq. One sergeant talks about how "the great majority [of Hit's people] want us to go home." "No one understands why we are here and what our mission is," another Sergeant tells the Times reporter. "This war is lost. We aren't helping these people. We are just dying and getting injured."

These are the people Rumsfeld needs to listen to; these are the people Congress should listen to; these are the people who deserve a hearing. The resolution on Rumsfeld will occupy center stage this week--and there is indeed a need for a reckoning, for accountability--but it is time to find an exit strategy from this Administration's policies which created this quagmire.

GOP Squabbles on Security

September was supposed to be "security month" for Republicans. On Congress's second day back in session, that effort is already falling apart on Capitol Hill.

"GOP Senators Differ with President on Military Trials," the Washington Post reported today on page A3. Next page over is another headline: "Republican Rift Over Wiretapping Widens."

Two articles about Republican division and nary a Democrat in sight!

And the New York Times reports today that GOP candidates from Washington to Connecticut to Virginia to New Jersey are calling for Donald Rumsfeld to step down as defense secretary.

If security is still a winning issue for Republicans, why are GOP candidates in tight election races across the country distancing themselves from President Bush?