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The Nation

Does Bush's Lawlessness Have Any Limits?

On May 9th, the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) announced it could not pursue an investigation into the role of Justice lawyers in crafting the warrantless wiretapping program. In a letter to New York Congressman Maurice Hinchey --the most dogged Congressional advocate for investigation of the spying program --H. Marshall Jarrett, OPR's Counsel, explained that he had closed Justice's probe because his office's requests for security clearances to conduct it had been denied.

"I am writing to inform you that we have been unable to make the meaningful progress in our investigation because OPR has been denied security clearances for access to information about the NSA program," Jarrett explained in his reply to Hinchey. "Beginning in January 2006, this Office made a series of requests for the necessary clearances. On May 9, 2006, we were informed that our requests had been denied. Without these clearances, we cannot investigate this matter and therefore have closed our investigation."

Who denied the requests? Who obstructed justice?

It turns out --according to Bush's very own Attorney General Alberto Gonzales- it was the President. Under sharp questioning this morning by Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Arlen Specter, Gonzales said that Bush would not grant the access required to allow the probe to move forward.

Hinchey, and others like Representatives John Lewis, Henry Waxman and Lynn Woolsey, who originally requested the probe should demand that Gonzales and his Department reopen the investigation. And they should also demand that President Bush explain why he obstructed a vital probe.

As Hinchey said at the time the probe was blocked, "The Bush Administration cannot simply create a Big Brother program and then refuse to answer any questions on how it came about and what it entails. We are not asking for top secret information." What becomes clearer with every revelation about this President's lawlessness is that Bush's arrogance and abuse of power must be checked.

Israel Lobby in Action

I almost never write about Israel. Someone who supports the Jewish state but opposes the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, as I do, generally gets flack from all sides. Too many on the left are reflexively anti-Israel. But too many in the so-called American mainstream are too quick to back whatever military excursion Israel undertakes--no matter how unproductive or misguided.

Nowhere is the knee-jerk support of Israel more clear than in the debate in Congress this week--or lack thereof--over the Israeli bombing of Lebanon. Leaders of both parties have been quick to forcefully condemn Hamas and Hezbollah while offering unconditional support for Israel's bombing of civilian Beirut.

Just take a look at the draft copy of the resolution under consideration in the House:

"Be it resolved that the House of Representatives reaffirms its steadfast support for the state of Israel; further condemns Hamas and Hezbollah for cynically exploiting civilian populations as shields...calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Israeli soldiers held captive by Hezbollah and Hamas; (and) affirms that all governments who have provided continued support to Hamas or Hezbollah share responsibility for the hostage-taking and attacks against Israel and, as such, must be held accountable for their actions."

Only a few senior statesmen have raised an alarm about the ferocity of Israel's response. Rep. John Dingell, the longest serving Democrat in the House, called the Israeli counterattack "disproportionate and counterproductive."

"The use of force has brought about a tragic amount of civilian deaths and has weakened a promising democracy in Lebanon," Dingell said in a statement. "The United States-–as a leader of the free world--must take immediate steps to bring about a cease fire so that negotiations may begin."

Likewise, Senator John Warner, the hawkish Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, has been a lone voice in holding up legislation in the Senate viewed as unnecessarily slanted toward Israel. "Our support for Israel is very strong, Mr. President, but it cannot be unconditional," Warner said on the Senate floor yesterday. "I urge the Administration to think through very carefully how Israel's extraordinary reaction could affect our operations in Iraq and our joint diplomatic efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue," he added in a statement.

Why are so few in Congress following the advice of Dingell and Warner? Perhaps it's because of the influence of what professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt call "The Israel Lobby," particularly its largest player, AIPAC.

Even former Bush and Clinton Administration Middle East envoy Dennis Ross, a sharp critic of Mearsheimer and Walt, admits that AIPAC exerts a disproportionate grip on the Congress. "It's pretty clear that they are a significant force on the Hill," Ross recently told NPR, "And that shouldn't be underestimated."

Ralph Reed Runs For President, er, Lt. Governor

Tuesday's primary election in Georgia will decide whether former Christian Coalition commander Ralph Reed has fooled enough home-state Republicans to win the party's nomination for lieutenant governor.

Reed, who made millions of dollars exploiting his reputation as "Mr. Moral Values" to help GOP influence peddler Jack Abramoff defend casino gambling interests and corporations exploiting sweatshop labor, is so compromised that some Democrats hope he wins the nomination, since they think they can beat him in November. The Democratic desire to run against Reed in November was heightened by the primary-eve announcement that a Texas Indian tribe had filed a civil fraud lawsuit against Reed and others, claiming that Reed conspired with Abramoff to shut down the tribe's casino while hiding the fact that they were in the pay of another tribe and competing casinos.

But, as Atlanta's smart alternative weekly newspaper, Creative Loafing, noted in its endorsement of Reed's primary rival, state Senator Casey Cagle: "Careful what you wish for."

It is not just Georgians who should be worried about this race.

With all the flack he's taking, the politically-savvy Reed would have backed out of this race if he was just running for the not-particularly-exciting office of lieutenant governor. He would not have risked the defeat that polls suggest could be handed him by Cagle.

But Reed is not just running for lieutenant governor.

Tuesday's primary is the first step on a campaign trail that the hyper-ambitious candidate hopes will take him to the governorship of Georgia in four years and then to a presidential run in 2012 or 2016.

Reed's betting that, if he can overcome all the talk about his Abramoff ties now, he'll be able to put the scandal behind him by the time he enters the national spotlight.

A crazy notion? Hardly. Republican strategists generally agree that, if Reed wins the primary and prevails in November, he will instantaneously emerge as the most prominent Christian conservative politician in the country. Based on his track record, Reed will parlay that prominence into a fund-raising campaign that will fill his campaign treasury with more than enough money to advance his state and national ambitions.

If Reed takes the governorship in four years, as a slew of Georgia lieutenant governors have in the past and as pundits suggests is certainly within the realm of possibility, he will be positioned to begin making the moves that are necessary to launch the presidential bid that has always been the end goal of the man who built the Christian Coalition from the remnants of Pat Robertson's failed 1988 campaign for the Republican nomination.

That's why Reed is running so hard this week. The critical first rung on the ladder of electoral politics he has been preparing to climb for more than two decades is within reach. The only question is whether Georgia Republicans will overlook his scandalous behavior and help him grasp it.

Will Plame vs. Cheney, Libby & Rove Unearth New Info?

Several years ago, I was talking to a Democratic senator on the intelligence committee about the CIA leak case. I asked if Democrats had any intention of pushing for a congressional investigation of the administration leak that appeared in Robert Novak's column and that outed Valerie Wilson as a CIA operative. The senator noted that a special counsel (Patrick Fitzgerald) was already on the case. That's true, I said, adding that it was not Fitzgerald's job to tell the public about his findings. His task was to investigate (secretly) a crime and then mount a prosecution if he could. Any information he would unearth would only become public were he to mention it in an indictment or a subsequent prosecution. He would not be issuing any report. And at the end of Fitzgerald's inquiry, I said to the senator, there might no prosecution (or merely a limited prosecution) and that the public might not learn all there was to know about the case. So, I asked this legislator, if Democrats cared about the leak, shouldn't they push for a non-criminal investigation? The senator replied in an exasperated manner: "You want us to investigate everything?"

Well, why not? But it was clear he wasn't interested in a congressional probe of the CIA leak case. Nor were many other Capitol Hill Democrats. Many were satisfied by the Fitzgerald appointment. But after investigating the case for over two years, Fitzgerald, has only indicted one Bush official, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, and that was not for the leak but for lying to the FBI and Fitzgerald's grand jury. (Libby disclosed Valerie Wilson's employment at the CIA to New York Times reporter Judy Miller and confirmed it for Time correspondent Matt Cooper.) In the course of the indictment and pretrial process, Fitzgerald has made some critical information available--such as the fact that it was Cheney who first told Libby that Valerie Wilson worked at the CIA's Counterproliferation Division, a unit in the agency's clandestine operations directorate. But Fitzgerald has not--and cannot under Justice Department guidelines--share all that he knows about the leak with the public. Thus, much of the story remains untold. And George W. Bush and his White House still refuse to answer any questions about the leak case, continuing a stonewalling strategy that has served them well.

Enter a new lawsuit. On Friday, Valerie and Joseph Wilson filed a lawsuit against Cheney, Libby and Karl Rove. (Prior to the Novak column, Rove leaked information about Wilson's classified employment to Time correspondent Matt Cooper; he also confirmed this information for Novak. Fitzgerald, though, was not able to bring a criminal case against him.) In the suit, the Wilsons accuse the three Bush officials--and unnamed coconspirators--of having violated their various rights, such as Valerie Wilson's privacy rights and Joe Wilson's right to express his opinions, which he did in a New York Times op-ed piece that criticized the Bush administration's Iraq policy. That article led White House officials to assail him.

The lawsuit is based on the Bivens case, in which a man named Webster Bivens was arrested in 1965 by agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. He later sued, complaining that the agents had searched his home and arrested him without a warrant and that he had suffered humiliation and mental suffering as a result. He argued that he could directly sue the narcs to remedy an unconstitutional invasion of his privacy rights. The Justice Department, representing the six unnamed narcotics agents, argued that Bivens had no right to bring a federal claim and could only initiate a tort action in a state court. A federal district court and then a federal appeals court tossed out his suit. But in 1971, the Supreme Court reversed those decisions. Writing for the majority, Justice William Brennan declared this sort of lawsuit was needed to check a federal official who was "unconstitutionally exercising his authority."

I'm no lawyer--though I occasionally play one on television--and cannot comment on whether Rove secretly sharing classified information with Cooper (or Libby doing the same with Miller) is the legal (and constitutional) equivalent of narcs busting into someone's home, throwing him into manacles in front of his wife and children, threatening to arrest the entire family, and searching the entire apartment, all without a warrant. And if Joe or Valerie Wilson had asked my advice, I might have suggested that they skip the suit, so Valerie Wilson can focus on writing her I-was-a-suburban-mom-spy memoirs--which is sure to land her on Oprah's couch, the bestsellers list, and (probably) a movie screen. (Angelina Jolie playing a real-life Mrs. Smith?)

But if the Wilsons can get their lawsuit to the discovery stage--and that might be a big if--they will be able to take depositions and demand documents from their targets and others. (Will they go after journalists?) Such action could yield information beyond what Fitzgerald has disclosed to the public. A private lawsuit is often an imperfect device to dig out the full story of any controversy. But this one is a reminder that the public has not yet received a full and official accounting of the leak case.

Stem Cell Madness

It's been over a year since that bastion of liberalism – the U.S. House of Representatives – approved federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. It looks as though this week the Senate will finally do the same.

But President Bush, in his ever-expanding role as "The Decider," is threatening his first veto and holding public health hostage to his skewed-faith-based reality and ideological crusade (see DefCon's ad in today's New York Times: "I trust God speaks through me. Without that, I couldn't do my job").

Despite our need for a sane science policy – and supporters of the legislation including Flip-Flopping Dr. Frist and Nancy Reagan literally urging Republicans to enact this for the Gipper – Bush prefers to side with such well-informed (non) members of the scientific community as:

Rev. Pat Robertson: "Before long, we'll be harvesting body parts from fully formed people. Once you begin this...utilitarian use of cells, then everything is up for grabs."

Rev. Jerry Falwell: "...the President was right to ban federal money going to this dangerous and unethical research."

James Dobson: "Experiments on the blastocytes, which are fertilized eggs, has a Nazi-esque aura to it."

As David Broder writes in The Washington Post, "… in the nation as a whole, polls show that public opinion supports expanded stem cell research." As many as 72% of Americans, in fact. But this administration is once again showing its true colors in this latest act of pandering. One hopes voters will make proponents of zealotry over science pay at the polls in 2006.

World Burns, Cheney Campaigns

As the world burns, Dick Cheney campaigns.

Today Cheney will spend seven hours in Iowa, stumping for two Congressional candidates and addressing the Iowa National Guard. No doubt Cheney will brag about how the Bush Administration is spreading peace and democracy across the globe.

But with the Middle East in flames, is political campaigning really the best use of the Vice President's time? We are talking about the man who effectively runs the White House.

Shouldn't top Bush Administration officials like Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice be in the region right now, working round the clock to defuse the crisis?

When it comes to engaging the world, a political campaign is no substitute for a foreign policy.

Don't Forget the Bloodletting in Iraq

With the Middle East on the cusp of war, President Bush's foreign policy for the area--remaking the region through invasion and occupation--is now effectively buried under the rubble of bombed out buildings, decimated bridges and civilian bodies.

The ongoing sectarian carnage in Iraq now barely makes it onto the front pages--and television is filled with the latest, horrifying scenes of devastation from the region. But Jessica Stern's op-ed, in Saturday's New York Times, is a powerful reminder of why we must not lose sight of ending the US occupation of a ravaged Iraq. Stern, a leading expert on terrorism, argues that our continuing occupation--and the growing number of revelations of US military atrocities (which she points out "are likely to proliferate the longer we remain in Iraq") will vastly increase the pool from which Al Qaeda and its sympathizers can recruit new members and supporters. As she reports, the latest Al-Qaeda video "tries to recruit ordinary American Muslims who might be offended, as many ordinary Americans are, by America's mistakes and moral failings in carrying out the war on terrorists." What Stern is saying is that this Administration's policies are actually increasing the possibility of future terrorist acts here in the US.

Yes, Iraq is complicated. As Robert Kuttner wrote recently in the Boston Globe, "..the search for a viable Iraq policy is really hard. President Bush has left the country with a policy problem from hell that may be literally insoluble, for him or anyone else." I agree, but at the same time that view should not lend a kind of gloss of acceptance to continued occupation.

Over the past three years, the Administration and its allies have offered a succession of reasons for why we must "stay the course"--all designed to match the succession of rationales for the war itself. An American withdrawal, we've been told, would embolden the insurgency, make Iraq a safe haven for terrorists and foreign jihadis and lead to civil war. One by one each of these predictions has come true. Not, of course, because we withdrew or even announced a timetable for withdrawal or redeployment but because we could not control the forces the war and occupation have unleashed and created.

At this point, there may be little America can do to stop the sectarian violence or even an all-out civil war. The sanest course is to remove US forces and work with the international community to keep Iraq from disintegrating as a result of our invasion and occupation. That means a shift from the failed military model to an all-out diplomatic and economic effort to limit the damage our reckless policies have caused. That means declaring no permanent bases or control of oil. But this Administration and its newly energized neo-con allies have little interest in diplomacy or giving Iraqis real sovereignty.

Stern's argument is a powerful and pragmatic rejoinder to the "stay the course" crowd. "We made a major error by going to war in Iraq.....Some errors yield not only bad outcomes, but also bad choices, and this is one. It will be dangerous for both Iraqis and Americans if we leave Iraq as a failed state. But it is even more dangerous to remain where our continuing presence will inevitably result in further cruelties and atroctiies, providing more arguments for more videos to attract more terrorist recruits around the globe--including here at home."

Friends Don't Let Friends Ruin Lebanon

Congressional "Friends of Israel" are busy making noises about the "need" for the United States to provide that Middle Eastern land with full support as it assaults its neighbors.

But no genuine friend of Israel can be happy with what is being done in that country's name by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his misguided followers.

Israel's attack on Lebanon, which has already killed and wounded hundreds and destroyed much of that fragile democracy's infrastructure--including airports, seaports, bridges and roads--has done nothing to make Israel safer or more secure from threats posed by the militant Islamic organization Hezbollah. Indeed, the terrorist group's attacks on targets in northern Israel have become more brazen--and deadly--since Israel began striking Lebanon.

No serious participant in the contemporary discourse would deny that Israel has a right to protect itself. But no one in their right mind thinks Israel is going about the mission in a smart manner.

As Henry Siegman, the former head of the American Jewish Congress explains, "In Lebanon as in Gaza, it is not Israel's right to protect its civilian population from terrorist aggression that is at issue. It is the way Israel goes about exercising that right."

"Despite bitter lessons from the past, Israel's political and military leaders remain addicted to the notion that, whatever they have a right to do, they have a right to overdo, to the point where they lose what international support they had when they began their retaliatory measures," adds Seigman. "Israel's response to the terrorist assault in Gaza and the outrageous and unprovoked Hizbollah assault across its northern border in Lebanon, far from providing protection to its citizens, may well further undermine their security by destabilizing the wider region."

Seigman's right. Israel's assault on Lebanon won't bring stability to the Middle East. Instead, it makes a bad situation worse.

Unfortunately, President Bush has chosen to direct his anger over the crisis toward Syria, a largely disempowered player, and Iran, an increasingly powerful player but not one that listens to the U.S. By failing to express blunt concern about Israel's over-the-top response to a genuine problem, Bush has encouraged Olmert to continue on a course that has already proven devastating for Lebanon and that, ultimately, will threaten Israel's stability.

Bush should start listening to wise voices from Israel, voices that are saying Olmert is wrong.

Both Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Public Security Minister Avi Dichter opposed last week's bombings of Hezbollah headquarters and other facilities in Beirut, a move by Olmert and his allies that dramatically increased tensions and violence.

In the Israeli Knesset there is a good deal of opposition to the current strategy.

Writing in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, former Israeli Cabinet member Yossi Sarid, a well-regarded veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces, argues that Israel -- and the United States -- need to recognize that they are going about things the wrong way. Instead of destroying the economic and physical infrastructure of Lebanon and Palestine, Sarid argues that efforts must be made to improve economies and opportunities for those who now see violence as the only way to demand fairness and opportunity.

"Iraq is destroyed, Afghanistan is destroyed, the Gaza Strip is destroyed and soon Beirut will be destroyed for the umpteenth time, and hundreds of billions of dollars are being invested solely in the vain war against the side that always loses and therefore has nothing more to lose. And hundreds of billions more go down the tubes of corruption," wrote Sarid.

"Maybe the time has come to put the pistol into safety mode for a moment, back into the holster, and at high noon declare a worldwide Marshall Plan, so that the eternal losers will finally have something to lose," Sarid added. "Only then will it be possible to isolate the viruses of violence and terrorism, for which quiet is quagmire and which in our eyes are themselves quagmire. And once isolated, it will be possible to eradicate them one day."

Ditherer-In-Chief

In your lifetime, has the US ever exercised less global leadership?

The Middle East is burning. Iraq is disintegrating. Afghanistan is collapsing. North Korea is escalating. Iran is cheering.

And all President Bush can do is dither. The Administration has no foreign policy. At least the invasion of Iraq, though wholly misguided and strategically disastrous, was an example of decisive action. Today, in the face of crisis after crisis, Bush does nothing.

"In the current crisis, which has the potential to be as or more dangerous than previous ones, the need for a concerted American-led crisis management role is as great or even greater than in the past," writes Duke professor Bruce Jentleson.

Why isn't Condi Rice in the Middle East right now, working round the clock to defuse the violence as Warren Christopher did during the Clinton Administration in 1993 and 1996? Why aren't we talking directly to North Korea? Why do we refuse to negotiate with Iran? Why are we told we can't leave Iraq even though it's increasingly unclear why we need to stay? Why are we letting the Taliban regroup in Afghanistan?

Why doesn't the Bush Administration have a convincing answer to any of these questions?

If cowboy diplomacy is supposedly over, as Time magazine recently proclaimed, the Administration better find a replacement foreign policy, soon.