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The Uncovered War: Air Power in Iraq

In addition to our largely ignored permanent bases in Iraq, here's another mystery of Iraqi (and Afghani) media coverage: The essential American way of war -- air power -- has long been completely MIA, except at a few websites. Until last week, there had been not a single mainstream piece of any significance on the air war these last years, with the exception of journalist Seymour Hersh's remarkable December 2005 report, "Up in the Air," in the New Yorker. ("A key element of the drawdown plans, not mentioned in the President's public statements, is that the departing American troops will be replaced by American airpower. Quick, deadly strikes by U.S. warplanes are seen as a way to improve dramatically the combat capability of even the weakest Iraqi combat units.") It is, of course, an irony that the only American reporter in these last years to look up and notice all those planes, helicopters, and Hellfire-missile-armed Predator drones overhead has never been to Iraq.

Such modest coverage of the air war in Iraq as exists in our press generally comes in the form of infrequent paragraphs buried in wire service round-ups as in a November 14th Associated Press piece headlined, "U.S. General Confronts Iraqi Leader on Security":

"On Monday night, U.S. forces raided the homes of some Sadr followers, and U.S. jets fired rockets on Shula, their northwest Baghdad neighborhood, residents said. Police said five residents were killed, although a senior Sadr aide put the death toll at nine. The U.S. military said it had no comment."

This incident assumedly took place somewhere in the vast Baghdad slum of Sadr city. In other words, we're talking about American planes regularly sending rockets or bombs into relatively heavily populated urban areas. All you have to do is imagine such a thing happening in an American city to grasp the barbarism involved. And yet, over these years in which such targeting has been commonplace and, in larger campaigns, parts of cities like Najaf and Falluja have been destroyed from the air, hardly a single reporter has gone to an air base like Balad and simply spent time with American pilots.

(Last week, David S. Cloud of the New York Times finally became the first reporter to get in a plane, a B-1 bomber, take off from an unidentified "Middle Eastern airfield" for an eleven-hour mission at 20,000 feet over Afghanistan and to report a staggering rise in the use of air power in that embattled country -- 2,095 air strikes in the last six months. In passing, however, Cloud offered a far too low figure for strikes in Iraq in the same period and the piece inside appeared deep inside the Times.)

Not surprisingly, the use of air power in Iraq remains a non-issue in this country. How could Americans react, when there's no news to react to, when there's next to no information to be had--which doesn't mean that information on our ongoing air campaign is unavailable. In fact, the Air Force is proud as punch of the job it's doing; so any reporter, not to speak of any citizen, can go to the Air Force website and look at daily reports of air missions over both Iraq and Afghanistan. The report of November 15th, for instance, offers the following:

"In Iraq, U.S. Marine Corps F/A-18s conducted a strike against anti-Iraqi forces near Ramadi. The F/A-18s expended guided bomb unit-31s on enemy targets. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons provided close-air support to troops in contact with anti-Iraqi forces near Forward Operating Base McHenry and Baqubah. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles provided close-air support to troops in contact with anti-Iraqi forces near Baghdad.

"In total, coalition aircraft flew 32 close air support missions for Operation Iraqi Freedom. These missions included support to coalition troops, infrastructure protection, reconstruction activities and operations to deter and disrupt terrorist activities."

This was a pretty typical day's work in recent months; there were 34 "close air support missions" on November 14th, 32 on the 13th, and 35 on the 12th--and note that each of the strikes mentioned was "near" a major city. These reports can be hard to parse, but they certainly give a sense, day by day, that the low-level air war in Iraq is no less ongoing for being unreported.

Here's the crucial thing: At the moment, all sorts of Iraqi "redeployment" or "phased withdrawal" plans are floating in the air in Washington, most aimed at "stabilizing" the woeful Iraqi government embedded in Baghdad's well-fortified Green Zone and keep the US in that country in some scaled-down form. The fact is, with such goals, American troop levels simply cannot be slowly drawn-down without -- as in Vietnam -- some increase in the use of air power. And yet, you can look far and wide and find no indication of any public discussion of this at the White House, in Congress, or in what we know of the deliberations of James A. Baker's Iraq Study Group. And yet, as the Iraqi chaos and strife grows while the American public increasingly withdraws its support for the war, air power will be one answer. You can count on that. And air power--especially in or "near" cities--simply means civilian carnage. It will be called "collateral damage" (if anyone bothers to call it anything at all), but--make no mistake--it will be at the heart of any new strategy that calls for "redeployment" without meaning to get us out of Iraq.

For Part 1 of The Uncovered War, "Permanent Bases in Iraq," click here. Next: "Salvaging American Dignity."

Full Steam Ahead

Representatives Barbara Lee and Lynn Woolsey – co-Chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus – aren't concerned about the close-to-conventional wisdom that conservative and Blue Dog Democrats will dominate the next Congress.

The CPC – already the largest caucus in Congress with 64 members – is expected to add at least seven new Democrats after this election. (Eight of the twelve candidates who received campaign support from caucus members won their races, including: Jerry McNerney (CA); Phil Hare (IL); Keith Ellison (MN); Bruce Braley (IA); John Hall (NY); Mazie Hirono (HI); Gabrielle Giffords (AZ); and Julia Carson (IN).) The CPC will now be represented in the Senate, too, where Senator-elect Bernie Sanders has pledged to remain a member and help recruit his new colleagues, and Sherrod Brown is expected to do the same.

Most significantly, the CPC's pressing issues are in sync with the American public's interests and desires. "We represent the real democratic values of our party," Woolsey says.

"We are a big tent party, but it was the war and economic issues that won this election," says Lee. "CPC members were the ones who didn't vote for the war in Iraq; and CPC members were the ones who called for an end to the Iraq War. And as far as the economy goes, proposals like raising the minimum wage are part of the progressive agenda."

Woolsey believes that the diversity of ideas within the party represents an opportunity. "Our party can prove to the nation that we represent all Americans – not just a slice of America. But our role is clear: if we sat quietly and let moderate Democrats become the left edge, then right-wingers would sail….They wouldn't look so right-wingy anymore!"

The Caucus has a clear vision for the upcoming Congress. It will support former-CPC member and Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi on her First 100 Hours and Six for '06 initiatives. But both Lee and Woolsey say that the CPC is focused on going "beyond that." They point to the caucus' Progressive Promise which outlines its goals in the areas of economic security, civil rights and liberties, global peace and security, and environmental protection and energy independence.

"We have to keep our promise to the American people by passing our Progressive Promise," Lee says.

Among other legislation, Woolsey looks forward to the CPC's unveiling of its "Peace and Security" budget this Spring. It will show "what a budget would look like if we invested in peace." She points to addressing the Patriot Act and Homeland Security ("make our nation more secure but not by taking away our rights"); making elections genuinely secure ("we as Democrats didn't do enough about that in the past two years"); taking on media control ("the FCC needs to know that we need more than a few corporations controlling the media"); and taking real steps to free the nation from dependence on foreign oil.

And, of course, responding to the crisis in Iraq.

Lee says the CPC will work to ensure that the Democratic Caucus as a whole embraces ending the war. It will work with its "millions of supporters," using the same "inside-outside strategy" that led to so many critical victories on Election Day. Many members will march with supporters and do all they can to expose the cost and devastation of the war and occupation. Meanwhile, the Out of Iraq Caucus – chaired by Rep. Maxine Waters and co-founded by Lee and Woolsey, among others – will present clear alternatives to the Administration's policy.

Lee makes it clear that it was the Bush Administration that "got us into this mess. And its going to have to get us out. But we'll come up with our specific proposals--including diplomacy with Syria and Iran."

The CPC will also maintain its laser-like focus on reducing poverty, which Lee notes isn't just an urban problem but impacts rural communities too.

With at least 10 CPC members expected to chair committees, and 35 members chairing subcommittees, both Lee and Woolsey are confident that the caucus' ideas and vision will inform the Democrats' approach on issues across the board.

"We'll be a steady and firm part of the debate," Woolsey says. "We'll get our amendments introduced. We'll have a voice."

Lee points to the critical role of witnesses in hearings. "We'll get a chance to call our witnesses," she says. "New ideas will be brought before the committees. Listening to people and presenting new ideas – that's how you come up with good legislation. Speaking [as a Representative from California], we are going to call more African-American, Latino, and Asian Pacific Islander American witnesses. We're going to call on our best and brightest. Republicans didn't do that."

Hearings will also allow CPC members to do their job of oversight. "We had a Republican Congress of No Oversight," Woolsey says. "The American people have been left with blanks where there should be answers. How did we get into Iraq? Where did the Reconstruction money go? Why did Abu Ghraib happen? What went wrong during Katrina? We will investigate and we will get answers. [CPC member] John Conyers will chair the Judiciary Committee – what more can I say?"

Lee and Woolsey are both reflective about the disastrous period which has now – in part – ended, and the work that lies ahead.

"Our country was on the brink," Lee says. "Domestic surveillance, torture, suspension of the Geneva Conventions. Our fundamental notion of democracy was at risk. Now we've got to take our country back. We were close to losing it, now we have to restore our democracy."

"My message to my leadership is this: this country elected us to be bold," Woolsey says. "They didn't elect us to wait for James Baker to report. They said they trust Democrats to get us out of Iraq. And they didn't elect Democrats to simply be partners with President Bush – rather, the public told us to correct, challenge and confront the President. I believe in nothing but boldness from this point on."

"This is a defining moment and we can't lose it," Lee adds. "It's full steam ahead."

Pelosi's Problem

Of course, House Democrats made a mistake in choosing the slick favorite of Washington special interests, Steny Hoyer, over shambling populist John Murtha to serve as House Majority Leader. In one of the more ridiculous exercises of journalistic irresponsibility by a Washington press corps that is distinguished by nothing so much as its ineptness when it comes to offering useful perspective to the American people, Murtha was dismissed as an ethically-challenged mess of a man while Hoyer, the candidate of K. Street, was presented as the tidier Democrat.

The coverage of the Murtha-Hoyer fight was commendable in the sense that Americans were reminded that it matters when members of Congress choose their leaders. Perhaps, soon, reporters will remind the populace that, under the Constitution, Congress is a co-equal branch of government charged with checking and balancing the excesses of the executive.

But, while it was nice to see a little attention paid to Congress, the failure of perspective when it came to reporting the realities of the leadership race was glaring. While Murtha certainly failed as a paragon of virtue, his alleged misdeeds tended to be petty and self-serving. Yet, they were blown up into such a "scandal" -- complete with the 24/7 repetition of grainy Abscam investigation videos that featured Murtha turning down a bribe but not doing so firmly enough -- that even Democrats who might have been inclined to respond to House Speaker-in-Waiting Nancy Pelosi's pro-Murtha pleas decided to go with Hoyer.

While Murtha may be an imperfect individual, Hoyers imperfections are systemic. The Marylander who served as minority whip before the election is the embodiment of everything that is wrong with the insider Democrats of Washington: He votes right on just enough issues to keep in the good graces of Democratic special-interest groups. But he votes wrong on just enough economic issues to keep the doors of corporate America open to his fund-raising appeals. The sly strategy has worked for Hoyer -- Public Citizen rated the Maryland congressman as the "most dependent on special-interest money" in the House and ranked him fifth out of the 433 members reviewed for contributions received from lobbyists.

In the critical measure of who gets money from corporate political action committees, Hoyer beats Murtha 2-1.Why?

Where Murtha could point to a consistent record of standing up to Wall Street on the most fundamental of economic issues, trade policy, Hoyer's record is one of abandoning the interests of workers, communities and the environment in order to meet the demands of multinational corporations and their lobbying groups. Even when human rights groups pleaded with Congress not to award permanent most-favored-nation trading status to China, Hoyer broke with most Democrats to back the move. In fact, Hoyer was the highest ranking Democrat in the House to support the shift. He also backed the North America Free Trade Act and other trade deals that most Democrats -- including Murtha -- opposed.

Where Murtha made his name by challenging the neo-conservative consensus on the war in Iraq in particular and foreign policy in general, Hoyer criticized his colleague for taking a stand, saying doing so "could lead to disaster."

Where Murtha defined the issues on which Democrats won in 2OO6, Hoyer was an anonymous backroom operative.

Nancy Pelosi knew that.

She backed the better contender for the majority leader post.

As usual, Pelosi did the right thing. Remember, this is the woman who voted against authorizing President Bush to go to war in Iraq and who stood up to former President Bill Clinton on trade with China.

But, also as usual, Pelosi did the right thing wrong. She came out for Murtha long after it was possible for her to influence the race in the Pennsylvanian's favor. Had Pelosi begun laying the groundwork before the November 7 -- especially with women in the caucus who respect and like her but who have never been so comfortable with Murtha -- she might well have been able to get the result she wanted. Had she used her prominence and her position to make the leadership vote more of a referendum on Iraq policy, rather than to allow it to be a murky choice within the caucus, she might have turned the focus away from the discussion of what Murtha did or did not do a quarter century ago and toward what he did in the fall of 2OO5, when the former Marine jumpstarted the discussion about exiting Iraq.

By backing Murtha so late and so ineptly, Pelosi made herself look weak and ineffectual. Even worse, she allowed a wrong signal to be sent -- the false message that the House Democratic Caucus was scared by Murtha's talk of quickly bringing the troops home from Iraq. With the key player in the Out of Iraq Caucus, California Democrat Maxine Waters, backing Hoyer for reasons of personal allegiance, it was always clear to honest observers that the leadership race was not a referendum on Iraq. Unfortunately, there are a lot of dishonest observers in Washington, and Pelosi should have known that.

As has been the case since she entered the House leadership, Nancy Pelosi, with her endorsement of Murtha, displayed a reasonably good sense of what Democrats should do. But, when she acted upon that endorsement, she displayed a particularly poor sense of how to do it. No one should be shocked by the latest stumble. This is, after all, the woman who knows that Democrats must hold the Bush administration to account for lying about the reasons for attacking Iraq, for condoning war profiteering, for warrantless wiretapping, for using positions of power to punish critics and, yet, declared before and after the election that talk of impeaching the wrongdoers is "off the table."

Pelosi's bumbling approach to the race for the majority leadership ought to serve as a wake-up call for the woman who will be Speaker of the House. She is about to come into immense power. She needs to exercise that power aggressively and without compromise. She should not be waiting until it is too late to make it clear who she wants on her leadership team, and to make the case to her allies for why they must vote with her. She should not be taking Constitutional procedures "off the table." She should not be pulling her punches.

Nancy Pelosi should trust her judgement and act upon it. She is the leader. She needs to lead -- more firmly, more strategically and more effectively.

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism is being published this month by The New Press. "With The Genius of Impeachment," writes David Swanson, co-founder of the AfterDowningStreet.org coalition, "John Nichols has produced a masterpiece that should be required reading in every high school and college in the United States." Studs Terkel says: "Never within my nonagenarian memory has the case for impeachment of Bush and his equally crooked confederates been so clearly and fervently offered as John Nichols has done in this book. They are after all our public SERVANTS who have rifled our savings, bled our young, and challenged our sanity. As Tom Paine said 200 years ago to another George, a royal tramp: 'Bugger off!' So should we say today. John Nichols has given us the history, the language and the arguments we will need to do so." The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com

McCain's Misguided Policy

What is Senator John McCain smoking? The war in Iraq is a rapidly disintegrating mess and McCain wants to send more US troops directly into harm's way. "Without additional combat forces we will not win this war," McCain said yesterday.

Has it not occurred to the presidential wannabe that America's occupying presence might itself be fueling the insurgency?

In early August the US launched Operation Forward Together, sending 12,000 additional troops into Baghdad to try and pacify the city. It didn't work. Even Army Maj. Gen. William Caldwell admitted that the operation "has not met our overall expectations of sustaining a reduction in the levels of violence." In fact, the bloodshed spiked upwards.

Why would sending more troops again, to Baghdad or the rest of the country, produce any different result?

Moreover, where will the troops come from? The Weekly Standard's subscription list? There's already a backdoor draft in this country, with many soldiers on their third or fourth deployments. "Not a single deployed US Army unit is battle ready," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said yesterday.

McCain is now calling himself a "common sense conservative." But on Iraq, he's full of you know what.

Democrats and Withdrawal from Iraq: Asking Too Much?

For Democrats, here's the bad news: now that they have won control of Congress, they are expected to not only criticize President Bush's policies in Iraq but to derive a solution to the mess he has created.

On Thursday morning, incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid met with several journalists, including yours truly. In his opening remarks, he outlined his plans. He noted that he will compel senators to work longer hours and dramatically expand the Tuesday-through-Thursday-at-noon work week that has become routine in the Senate. He said he would cut back on recess time. The first bill he intends to introduce as majority leader, he declared, would target sleazy campaign tactics, and he pointed to the misleading robocalls and false campaign literature used by Republicans in the final days of the recent congressional elections. He then turned to Iraq and called for some form of a "phased withdrawal."

"What we need to do first of all is implement the laws of the land," Reid said, referring to a resolution passed months ago by Congress calling for 2006 to be a year of significant transition in Iraq. "This law has been ignored," he complained. And he noted that 39 senators did vote for a Democratic amendment--another non-binding resolution--urging the beginning of the redeployment of troops from Iraq (without setting any deadlines for their departure). Reid indicated that he and the Democrats would continue to press for initiating a withdrawal: "We're an occupying force." But Reid also said that the United States had "to do a better job" on counterinsurgency and the training of Iraqi security forces. Pointing out that Baghdad now has less than fours of electricity a day, Reid said, "We need to revitalize reconstruction." He also called for a regional conference to work out a path ahead for Iraq.

But here's the rub: can the United States rebuild Iraq and remake its security forces while intense sectarian conflict is under way? And can it do so while removing troops? I asked Reid if the revitalization of Iraq and the creation of an Iraqi military and police force that is not beholden to sects and militias is at this point "a bridge too far." His reply: "It may be a bridge too far, but at least it's a bridge somewhere....There has to be a plan to get us out of there...This is my plan."

There seems to be a contradiction between the two sides of this plan: disengage (via troop withdrawals) but make reconstruction and training work. Reid noted the recent testimony of General John Abizaid, the head of Central Command, who said that progress needed to happen in Iraq in the next four to five months, and Reid compared this remark to the comment of Senator Carl Levin, the Democrat who will become chairman of the armed services committee, who said that redeployment of US troops should begin in four or five months. He appeared to be suggesting that under a Democratic plan there would be a window of opportunity--four or five months--for the Bush administration and the Iraqi government (such as it is) to work things out before US troops would start to leave. But it isn't realistic to expect significant (and positive) change within this time, especially when the situation in Iraq appears to worsen by the week.

As Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus reported on Friday--in an article headlined, "Violence in Iraq Called Increasingly Complex"--the dynamics of the conflict in Iraq are becoming harder, not easier, to sort out and address. He wrote:

Attacks in Iraq reached a high of approximately 180 a day last month, reflecting an increasingly complicated conflict that includes sectarian clashes of Sunni and Shiite militias on top of continuing strikes by insurgents, criminal gangs and al-Qaeda terrorists, according to the directors of the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency.

"No single narrative is sufficient to explain all the violence we see in Iraq today," Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the CIA director, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday.

Attempting to describe the enemy, Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples, the DIA director, listed "Iraqi nationalists, ex-Baathists, former military, angry Sunni, Jihadists, foreign fighters and al-Qaeda," who create an "overlapping, complex and multi-polar Sunni insurgent and terrorist environment." He added that "Shia militias and Shia militants, some Kurdish pesh merga, and extensive criminal activity further contribute to violence, instability and insecurity."

These descriptions suggest an increasingly difficult state of affairs that will not be much improved in four or five months.

And if the president does not heed the Democrats' call to start withdrawing troops by the spring, what will they do? After all, Reid noted that when he met with Bush the previous week he did not sense much "willingness to change." So will he, House Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi, who has also advocated a withdrawal of troops, and the Democrats try to choke off funding for the war or attempt to impose legislative mandates upon the commander in chief? "We're not going to back off this," Reid said--without mentioning any specific steps. If Bush stays the course or elects to send more troops to Iraq, Reid said, "We'll speak out loudly." Speaking out loudly, though, will not likely persuade Bush at this stage or lead to any course corrections.

Reid noted that Iraq is "the number-one issue" for the Senate's new Democrats and the war is "hurting our country." He added, "the whole situation [in Iraq] is breaking down." But can Iraq be saved? As Democrats establish their opening position in the coming fight with the White House over Iraq--a battle that will be shaped by whatever former Secretary of State James Baker's Iraq Study Group recommends next month--they are asking for a lot: disengagement from Iraq and a US policy that results in a better Iraq (one with a functioning central government, a revived economy, and effective security forces not under the control or influence of sectarian militias). Redeployment is certainly achievable; making Iraq work may not be. There certainly is no guarantee that the withdrawal will quickly lead to a stable and secure Iraq. Pulling out American troops might remove a possible obstacle to a political accommodation among Iraqi parties that leads to less chaos and violence. The removal of troops, though, could cause the opposite and render it tougher for the Iraqi government (even with much U.S. assistance) to rebuild the nation's infrastructure and to train a worthwhile military and police force--particularly if other nations, including those of the region, do not become more involved in repairing Iraq.

In calling for a phased withdrawal, Reid, Pelosi, and the Democrats need to be careful not to promise that the removal of troops will be accompanied by political, economic, and security improvements. They might have to choose between disengagement and the continuing (though failing) effort to stand up an effective government and Iraqi army. The Democrats also must ponder how oppositional to be should Bush adhere to Vice President Cheney's pre-election vow to go "full speed ahead" with their current Iraq policy.

As the Democrats take over the legislative branch, they are assuming fifty-fifty ownership of one of the most vexing foreign policy challenges in the nation's history: how to undo Bush's war in Iraq. They have to realize that disengagement--even if the correct call--might carry with it ugly consequences and not bolster the prospects for rebuilding and stabilizing Iraq. Sadly, those aims, due to Bush's blunders, may be beyond America's control. So far that has been tough for the Democrats--or Bush--to admit.

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At the breakfast meeting with journalists, Reid also said:

* The Senate intelligence committee will finish its so-called Phase II inquiry, which is supposed to evaluate how the Bush administration used the prewar intelligence to garner public support for the invasion of Iraq. A year ago, Reid closed down the Senate to protest the Republican delay in producing this report. "That will be completed now," he said. "It may not help us in the future, but it will give us the historical background of what got us into the war." He added, "We're going to get the answers to that out....We have been jerked around....And we're not going to take it anymore."

* He intends to target tax breaks for the oil industry and the monopoly exemption enjoyed by the insurance industry. "We have to rise up," he said.

* He fully backs Howard Dean as the Democratic Party chairman. "I didn't support his running for the chair of the DNC," Reid said. "I was wrong. He was right....I support his grassroots Democratic Party-building."

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DON"T FORGET ABOUT HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR, the best-selling book by David Corn and Michael Isikoff. Click here for information on the book. The New York Times calls Hubris "the most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations" and "fascinating reading." The Washington Post says, "There have been many books about the Iraq war....This one, however, pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft." Tom Brokaw notes Hubris "is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For highlights from Hubris, click here.

No Fresh Faces for House GOP

"We did not just lose our majority ... we lost our way," Indiana Republican Representative Mike Pence told the diminished House Republican Caucus Thursday as he urged them to elect him as their new leader. "We are in the wilderness because we walked away from the limited-government principles that minted the Republican Congress."

Running as a reformer who argued that Congressional Republicans lost majorities in the House and Senate November 7 because they became associated in the eyes of voters with fiscal irresponsibilty and ethical laxity, Pence campaigned for the leadership as a conscience conservative. He said it was time for the caucus to disassociate itself from the compromised image it obtained under the leadership of disgraced former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and those who took over for DeLay when the Texan fled the House.

Pence's colleagues were not impressed.

By an overwhelming margin, they chose to remain in the wilderness.

By a 168-27 vote, GOP caucus members made the outgoing majority leader, Ohioan John Boehner, the minority leader in the next Congress. Boehner, who is perhaps best known for his bumbling approach to the scandal involving former Florida Representative Mark Foley and House pages -- in which he appeared, at one point, to indict outgoing Speaker Dennis Hastert -- and for his backroom approach to budgeting, will keep a Tom DeLay face on the caucus.

Boehner's No. 2, Missouri's Roy Blunt, a DeLay lieutenant who has been associated with every major scandal to hit the House Republican Caucus in recent years, was retained as caucus whip by a vote of 147-57 over Arizona conservative Rep. John Shadegg, who like Pence ran as a reformer.

The Senate's "Horrible Mistake"

For decades, the official policy of the United States has been to discourage nuclear proliferation, particularly in southern Asia.

But the U.S. Senate now says: No more.

At the prodding of the Bush administration, the Senate voted 85-12 to allow the U.S. to ship nuclear fuel and technology to India as part of an initiative to encourage the expansion of nuclear programs in that country. At a time when the Bush administration is suggesting the U.S. might need to go to war to block nuclear proliferation in Iran and North Korea, the Senate has given its stamp of approval to proliferation in one of the most volatile regions of the world.Describing the vote as "a horrible mistake," Senator Byron Dorgan, D-North Dakota, said the vote repudiated decades of U.S. policy of "telling the world it's our responsibility and our major goal to stop the spread of nuclear weapons."

The White House says that the scheme to have the U.S. supply the building blocks for a nuclear arsenal to India will not actually do so. The spin claims that the U.S. will only be supplying civilian nuclear fuel. But, of course, by filling the demand for civilian fuel, the U.S. will free India up to use domestic uranium for development of nuclear weapons. That, in turn, will almost certainly lead to moves by neighboring countries -- particularly Pakistan and China -- to build up their nuclear stockpiles.

Most Democratic and Republican senators backed the India Nuclear Cooperation Promotion Act, which will now be reconciled with legislation endorsed in July by the House. To make matters worse, the Senate overwhelmingly rejected an amendment by California Democrat Barbara Boxer that would have asked India to cut off all military-to-military ties with Iran and an amendment proposed by Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold to require "that United States nuclear cooperation with India does nothing to assist, encourage, or induce India to manufacture or acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices."

Joining Dorgan, Boxer and Feingold in voting against the measure were nine other senators: Hawaii's Daniel Akaka, New Mexico's Jeff Bingaman, West Virginia's Robert Byrd, North Dakota's Kent Conrad, Minnesota's Mark Dayton, Iowa's Tom Harkin, South Dakota's Tim Johnson, Massachusetts' Ted Kennedy and Vermont's Patrick Leahy.

It fell to Feingold to sum up the disappointment of the few who tried to maintain a U.S. commitment to preventing proliferation when he said of the legislation: "It fundamentally changes over 30 years of nonproliferation policy and will have serious consequences for our national security. This bill, supported by the same Administration that has failed to stem the nuclear weapons efforts of North Korea and Iran, flies in the face of our country's nonproliferation obligations and only contributes to a developing nuclear arms race. Unfortunately, my amendment to ensure that this deal would not break our nonproliferation obligations and help India's nuclear weapons program failed. The U.S. relationship with India is one of our most important, and I fully support developing closer strategic ties with India. But I had to vote against this bill because it hurts, rather than helps, our national security."

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism is being published this month by The New Press. "With The Genius of Impeachment," writes David Swanson, co-founder of the AfterDowningStreet.org coalition, "John Nichols has produced a masterpiece that should be required reading in every high school and college in the United States." Studs Terkel says: "Never within my nonagenarian memory has the case for impeachment of Bush and his equally crooked confederates been so clearly and fervently offered as John Nichols has done in this book. They are after all our public SERVANTS who have rifled our savings, bled our young, and challenged our sanity. As Tom Paine said 200 years ago to another George, a royal tramp: 'Bugger off!' So should we say today. John Nichols has given us the history, the language and the arguments we will need to do so." The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com

The Uncovered War: Permanent Bases in Iraq

Looked at in a clear-eyed way, almost all the strategies floating around Washington at this moment for "redeployment" or "phased withdrawal" are not actual withdrawal plans. They are complex schemes for hanging on to some truncated imperial presence at the heart of the oil lands of the planet -- and as such are doomed to fail. Like Richard Nixon's Vietnamization program (which withdrew American ground forces while ratcheting up the use of American air power), these are Iraqification policies. But to grasp what they might actually mean, you need to be able to assess two key aspects of our Iraqi venture that mainstream newspapers essentially have not cared to cover–first and foremost, the permanent facts-on-the-ground the Bush administration has been so intent on building there since 2003.

As the New York Times revealed in a front-page piece by Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt on April 19, 2003, just after Baghdad fell, the Pentagon arrived in the Iraqi capital with plans already on the drawing board to build four massive military bases (that no official, then or now, will ever call "permanent"). Today, according to our former Secretary of Defense, we have 55 bases of every size in Iraq (down from over 100); five or six of these, including Balad Airbase, north of Baghdad, the huge base first named Camp Victory adjacent to Baghdad International Airport, and al-Asad Airbase in western Anbar province, are enormous -- big enough to be reasonable-sized American towns with multiple bus routes, neighborhoods, a range of fast-food restaurants, multiple PX's, pools, mini-golf courses and the like.

Though among the safest places in Iraq for American reporters, these bases have, with rare exceptions, gone completely undescribed and undiscussed in our press (or on the television news). From an engineering journal, we know that before the end of 2003, several billion dollars had already been sunk into them. We know that in early 2006, the major ones, already mega-structures, were still being built up into a state of advanced permanency. Balad, for instance, already handled the levels of daily air traffic you would normally see at Chicago's ultra-busy O'Hare and in February its facilities were still being ramped up. We know, from the reliable Ed Harriman, in the latest of his devastating accounts of corruption in Iraq in the London Review of Books, that, as you read, the four mega-bases always imagined as our permanent jumping-off spots in what Bush administration officials once liked to call "the arc of instability" were still undergoing improvement.

Without taking the fate of those monstrous, always-meant-to-be-permanent bases into account--and they are, after all, just about the only uniformly successfully construction projects in that country--no American plans for Iraq, whatever label they go by, will make much sense. And yet months go by without any reporting on them appearing. In fact, these last months have gone by with only a single peep (that I've found) from any mainstream publication on the subject.

The sole bit of base news I've noticed anywhere made an obscure mid-October appearance in a Turkish paper, which reported that the U.S. was now building a "military airport" in Kurdistan. A few days later, a UPI report picked up by the Washington Times had this: "Following hints U.S. troops may remain in Iraq for years, the United States is reportedly building a massive military base at Arbil, in Kurdish northern Iraq."

Kurdistan has always been a logical fallback position for U.S. forces "withdrawing" from a failed Iraq. But so far nothing more substantial has been written on the subject.

There is, however, another symbol of American "permanency" in Iraq that has gotten just slightly more attention in the U.S. press in recent months--the new U.S. embassy now going up inside Baghdad's well-fortified Green Zone and nicknamed by Baghdadis (in a sly reference to Saddam Hussein's enormous, self-important edifices) "George W's Palace." It's almost the size of Vatican City, will have its own apartment buildings (six of them) for its bulked-up "staff" of literally thousands and its own electricity, well-water, and waste-treatment facilities to guarantee "100 percent independence from city utilities," not to speak of a "swimming pool, gym, commissary, food court and American Club, all housed in a recreation building" and it's own anti-missile system. Ed Harriman tells us that it's a billion dollar-plus project--and unlike just about every other construction project in the country, it's going up efficiently and on schedule. It will be the most imperial embassy on the planet, not exactly the perfect signal of a sovereign Iraqi future.

Again, few have had much to say about the embassy project here, a rare exception being an August Dallas Morning News editorial, "Fortress America: New Embassy Sends Wrong Message to Iraqis," that denounced the project: "America certainly needs a decent, well-defended embassy in Baghdad. But not as much as ordinary Iraqis need electricity and water. That our government doesn't seem to understand that reality could explain a lot about why the U.S. mission is in such trouble."

Of course, as we learned in Vietnam, even the most permanent facilities can turn out to be impermanent indeed and even the best defended imperial embassy can, in the end, prove little more than a handy spot for planning an evacuation. But if the Iraq Study Group doesn't directly confront these facts-on-the-ground (as it surely won't), whatever acceptable compromises it may forge in Washington between an embedded administration and a new Congress, things will only go from truly bad to distinctly worse in Iraq.

Next: The Uncovered American Air War (Part 2)

For Hungry Baby, Unfriendly Skies

Just about everyone agrees that women should breastfeed their babies (if possible), but God forbid they ever leave their homes with said babies! The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby's life, saying that the practice reduces diarrhea, ear infections, and meningitis, and may also protect babies against SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome), diabetes, obesity and asthma. Breastfeeding is becoming a far more acceptable topic of public discussion -- even, at times, a fashionable one, with numerous celebrity moms, including Jennifer Garner, Julia Roberts, Heidi Klum, Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie, crediting nursing with their speedy post-pregnancy weight loss. Yet some women do, amazingly, still encounter hostility when feeding their infants in a public place.

According to news reports, Emily Gillette, a 27-year-old New Mexico woman, says that when she attempted to nurse her baby on a Delta Airlines flight, the uptight stewardess gave her a blanket, asking her to cover up. When Gillette refused, the flight attendant threw mother and baby off the plane! Silly Emily--doesn't she know those things are for selling beer and cars? Any other public use is obviously obscene.

Breastfeeding in public is legally protected in at least twenty-eight states, according to La Leche League; many statutes -- including Vermont, where Delta so unhappily encountered Emily Gillette -- stipulate that a mother may breast-feed anywhere she and her child have a right to be. But clearly, as I once heard a civil liberties activist say, the only way to protect rights is to use them. A group of women held a "nurse-in" at a Delta terminal in Vermont to protest Gillette's treatment, and the online mother-activists group MomsRising has a petitionyou can sign to tell Delta to get over its neuroses, and tell Congress to pass the Breastfeeding Protection Act, which extends the anti-discrimination provisions in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to mothers feeding their babies.

Access to abortion gets a lot of attention--as it should, especially in an election season--but it's important to remember that reproductive rights also include the freedom to have and properly care for babies. This incident is particularly remarkable given the hassle many parents faced trying to bring infant formula on planes just after the London bomb threat (when passengers were forbidden any liquids). Let's hope Delta is feeling, well, exposed. I called up the corporate communications department to see what the company had to say for itself. When I explained why I was calling, a spokeswoman sounded nervous, and hastily directed me to an absent colleague's voicemail. I haven't heard back from anyone yet.