Quantcast

The Nation

The Costs of War (Continued)

Last week, Congress authorized another $70 billion for Afghanistan and Iraq in 2007, with additional increases through 2009.

According to the National Priorities Project (NPP), $378 billion has already been spent or allocated for the Iraq war. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz estimates that the economic costs of war, occupation, and related expenditures may reach $2 trillion – despite the Bush administration's promise that this conflict would cost $50 billion and its firing of its economic advisor for daring to estimate the cost between $100 to $200 billion. (The horrific human cost: more than 2,700 US soldiers and some 100,000 Iraqis killed since the US invasion in 2003.)

As NPP Research Director, Dr. Anita Dancs, testified at a congressional forum, $378 billion could pay for all of the following: health care coverage for all uninsured children during this entire war; four-year scholarships to a public university for all of this year's graduating seniors; construction of 500,000 affordable housing units; the Coast Guard's estimate on funds needed for port security; tripling the energy conservation budget in the US Department of Energy; and reducing this year's budget deficit by half.

But there are other costs to our nation too. They include the corrosion of our values, our constitution, and our reputation internationally. The passage of legislation on military detainees last week is believed by some scholars to be as destructive to our republic as the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. (In fact, Charles Falconer, one of the highest-ranking justice officials in Britain, told the Washington Post that current US practices make it "harder to identify to the world what your values are.")

What makes these human, economic, and morals costs of the Iraq war even more infuriating is the Bush administration's messianic, "state of denial." As the recently released National Intelligence Estimate reveals, the war has transformed a relatively limited terrorist threat into a breeding ground for a new wave of extremist Islamic jihadism. NPP also points out that we are now less prepared at home for a natural disaster (as Hurricane Katrina demonstrated) or terrorist attack with our resources and troops stretched to the breaking point in Afghanistan and Iraq.

This administration had a misguided idea about building a shining city on a hill in Iraq and its own power to achieve it. What was truly needed then, as now, was international cooperation and a commitment to spreading our democratic values by force of successful example, not force of arms. This is far from a policy of retreat or isolationism, as "stay the course" (right off the cliff) adherents would have you believe. It means challenging the Bush administration – and too many Democratic leaders – who have bought into an over-militarized approach to terrorism. It means, in the end, being a global leader instead of a global cop.

Tipping Point?

Sometimes, the proximate cause of an unraveling, even an implosion, may catch everyone by surprise. This week the "tipping point" (to borrow a Bush administration phrase from the Iraq War) for the possible unraveling of Republican control of Congress may be the roiling, boiling Mark Foley affair with its sexually explicit emails and instant messages to teenage House pages, which, in the pattern of any such scandal, has surely not yet fully emerged into view.

Only yesterday, the editorial page of the right-wing Washington Times called on House Speaker Dennis Hastert to resign "at once," while the Washington Post reported "intense anger among social conservative activists in Washington yesterday." Meanwhile, news about how much the Republican leadership (and the FBI) knew about Foley's activities without taking any action continues to emerge and the Democrats are clearly about to press their sudden advantage in undoubtedly below-the-belt campaign ads. As Perry Bacon, Jr. of Time Magazine puts it, a potentially expanding "‘throw the bums' out mentality... could result in a Democratic win in the House" -- and, with that, the power to investigate the Bush administration would fall into far less friendly hands at a moment when the landscape is chock-a-block full of investigative possibilities.

In just the last couple of weeks, it was learned that lobbyist Jack Abramoff may have practically camped out in Karl Rove's office; that Henry Kissinger had quietly returned to the Oval Office to re-fight the Vietnam War; that the complete American intelligence community agreed, in a National intelligence Estimate, that Iraq was a veritable machine for creating terrorists; that (according to the Washington Post's Bob Woodward, who created laudatory portraits of the President when things were going so well) George W. Bush (gasp!) actually lied to the American people about the situation in Iraq; that he was also determined to make sure American troops remained mired in Iraq even if only his wife and dog supported his policy; that his former national security advisor and present secretary of state may have shrugged off a meeting with the top two people in the CIA in July 2001 warning about an Osama bin Laden attack; and finally that Congress passed a bill essentially giving the President and the CIA a get-out-of-jail-free card for illegal past acts in the thriving field of torture and illegal detention.

In such a scandal-ridden, edge-of-election moment in Washington, it's easy enough to let older scandals slip from sight. Right now, that's the case with Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald's upcoming prosecution of I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Cheney's former right-hand man. As it happens, however, even if we've taken our eyes off the case (and the set of scandals behind it), key administration figures haven't for a simple reason that former federal prosecutor Elizabeth de la Vega explains in striking fashion in "Pardon Me? Scooter Libby's Trial Strategy." After all, the Libby case, when laid out in court beginning in mid-January, would threaten to unravel the Vice President's administration command post in full view of the public. The question De la Vega asks is: Post-mid-term elections will the President pardon Libby before a trial can begin. Either way this scandal of the recent past is guaranteed to be a major scandal of the near future.

Hastert Lies Again, Gets Caught Again

This whole Denny Hastert scandal is moving beyond parody.

Apparently, the Speaker of the House thinks that no one who actually follows the news listens to conservative talk radio.

That's the only explanation for Hastert's claim, during a Tuesday attempt at face saving on Rush Limbaugh's show, that he and other GOP leaders had forced Florida Congressman Mark Foley to quit after it was revealed that the Republican representative had been sending "Do I make you horny?" emails to teenage Congressional pages.

"We took care of Mr. Foley," Hastert told Limbaugh. "We found out about it, asked him to resign. He did resign. He's gone."

Sounds good. There's only one problem.

Hastert was making the whole thing up.

Foley quit after the news of the emails was broken by ABC's Brian Ross. There has never been any indication that the congressman spoke with members of the Republican leadership. Indeed, by all accounts, including those of Hastert's office, Foley quit of his own accord before consulting in any way with the Speaker or any other Republican leader.

When ABC reporters contacted Hastert's office about the discrepancy, they were informed that the Speaker "misspoke."

Er, no, Hastert did not "misspeak." As he has several times since this scandal broke, Hastert lied. And, once again, he got caught.

Don't Try This While Voting

Richard, what will it take to convince you that Mark Foley is well within the range of a deranged pedophile, deserving of the full scorn he is now receiving?

How about if I told you that while awaiting a vote on funding for the Iraq war, he had IM sex with yet another teen?

Maf54: ok..i better go vote..did you know you would have this effect on me

Teen: lol I guessed

Teen: ya go vote…I don't want to keep you from doing our job

Maf54: can I have a good kiss goodnight

Teen: :-*

Teen:

Or that he later invited the teen over to his Capitol Hill house for drinks?

Teen: are you going to be in town over the veterans day weekend

Maf54: I may be now that your coming

Maf54: who you coming to visit

Teen: haha good stuff

Teen: umm no one really

Maf54: we will be adjourned ny then

Teen: oh good

Maf54: by

Maf54: then we can have a few drinks

Maf54: lol

Teen: yes yes ;-)

Maf54: your not old enough to drink

Teen: shhh…

Maf54: ok

Teen: that's not what my ID says

Teen: lol

Maf54: ok

Teen: I probably shouldn't be telling you that huh

Maf54: we may need to drink at my house so we don't get busted

And that he reportedly met one of these pages in San Diego and had plans to see him again?

Or these email exchanges with another former page, which make the Starr report seem mild?

So forgive me if I don't agree with your statement that "it appears that Foley took great care to keep himself apart from his demons." Au contraire.

Foley Days

Let's see, in the last week the National Intelligence Estimate concluded that the Iraq War has become a jihadist "cause celebre" that only fuels terrorism and anti-Americanism. The Republican-led Congress authorized torture, suspended habeas corpus and approved the construction of a 700-mile long fence along the Mexican border. Former Bush hagiographer Bob Woodward revealed that Condi Rice was warned about an impending al-Qaeda attack two months before 9/11, but did nothing.

But Huzzah! The Democrats have finally gone on the offensive; the DCCC is pushing for Dennis Hastert's resignation as speaker. Their cause celebre? A bunch of pervy emails and IMs between former Congressman Mark Foley and various pageboys about masturbation techniques and lacrosse practice.

Okay, so Foley's a semi-closet case, a hypocrite, a sleazebag and a drunk (though he might be making this last bit up, which makes him a liar instead). But as of this writing, no criminal or civil charges have been filed, no laws have been demonstrably broken and nobody has claimed to have been harmed by his actions (though one page says Foley's photo request "freaked me out"). There might have been a cover-up, or more likely a disposition to look the other way, on the part of the House leadership. I'm sure we'll learn more about who knew what when in the month to come.

But really, have the Democrats sunk so low that a Congressional inquiry parsing questions like "did you spank it this weekend yourself" and "do I make you a little horny" now constitutes their major, galvanizing election issue? "Congress must not pass the buck on investigating this cover-up," intoned Democratic minority leader Nancy Pelosi. Where, dear Nancy, have you been hiding such steely resolve?

I admit there's some pleasure in hanging Foley, whose primary legislative agenda was cracking down on child sex offenders, with the noose of his own hypocrisy. And it's all too easy to take other Republicans along for the ride. But moral outrage over Foley's "crimes" stems, at least in part, from conflating him with the monstrous, stranger child kidnapper-rapist-murderer that is the subject of his own legislation. Hence, the sense of dramatic irony: Foley railed against these sickos, but he was one of them!

But in fact, it appears that Foley took great care to keep himself apart from his demons. Nobody alleges that he abducted, raped or assaulted anyone. As of this writing, no physical contact or solicitation for physical contact took place. No pornography was produced or exchanged (though depending on how you read the IMs, obscene material may have been). No money was exchanged. Foley has no previous record as a sex offender (which would have required him to register as such and perhaps, under his own law, wear an electronic GPS collar for life). He was no stranger to these teens. He waited, so it seems, until they were no longer employees of the House. He was stupid, and scrupulous.

My point is: At worst, many of the so-called "child protection" laws Foley favored vastly overreach and violate Constitutional rights to privacy. In some states "sex offenders" convicted of consensual, non-violent crimes like sodomy or fornication with another adult are required to register and have their name, address, image and place of work made public. At best, these laws are largely ineffective because, as experts point out, the vast majority of sexual abuse happens between family members, friends and acquaintances (i.e. guys like Mark Foley), and not strangers.

It seems inaccurate to call Foley a child sex offender, but if one insists on doing so, one ought at least note that his own legislation, which is being burnished in the press now if only to make Foley into a negative example, wouldn't have stopped him at all. For that, one would need, not draconian, grandstanding legislation, but the kind of common decency that's apparently in short supply these days on Capitol Hill.

Woodward's Book and the CIA/Plame Leak Case

Here's an interesting scene from Bob Woodward's new book. It's the summer of 2004 and George Tenet has resigned as CIA chief:

[White House chief of staff] Andy Card called [Deputy Secretary of State Richard] Armitage to see if he was interested in taking over the CIA.

No, Armitage replied emphatically.

"Can I ask the reason? We're disappointed."

Armitage replied that he could give the reason but he would prefer not to because it might hurt Cards feelings.

Card knew the problem for Armitage was Cheney and Rumsfeld. He nonetheless asked Powell if there was a way to persuade Armitage.

"You can ask him again," Powell replied, "but he doesn't fool around." An Armitage no is a no. "My personal view is he won't do it."

What's missing from Woodward's account? One significant fact disclosed by Hubris: the Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War (which I wrote with Michael Isikoff): that Armitage had leaked Valerie Plame Wilson's CIA identity to conservative columnist Robert Novak and had been under investigation by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. At the time he was offered the CIA job, Armitage, who had cooperated with the investigation, might have no longer been a primary target of Fitzgerald (though he would later be reinvestigated by Fitzgerald for having failed to disclose to the special prosecutor that he had also discussed Valerie Wilson's CIA employment with Woodward weeks before mentioning it to Novak), but his role in the leak was still a big secret.

He knew he had leaked classified information that had led to the outing of a CIA officer. Could he accept the CIA position and go through the confirmation process, knowing that at any moment the news could emerge that he had blown the cover of an undercover CIA employee? (And what if a senator asked him about the leak at the confirmation hearing?) There was no way he could place himself in such a possibly perilous position. It was dicey enough for him to remain at the State Department, realizing the Plame time bomb could detonate any time. And Woodward reports that months later--after the 2004 presidential election--the White House considered naming Armitage to the new position of national director of intelligence. Armitage was not interested. Woodward notes this was because, as Armitage told National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, "I just don't know how I can work in an administration that lets Secretary Powell walk and keeps Mr. Rumsfeld." But once again, he could not have accepted this position for the same reasons.

While writing the book, Woodward knew that Armitage had disclosed information to him about Valerie Wilson's CIA connection and, as we report in Hubris, Woodward had suspected his source had been Novak's source. And over a month before his book was published, a Newsweek article based on Hubris disclosed that Armitage had been the source for both Novak and Woodward.

This brief section of State of Denial--a book that does contain important (and sometime entertaining) disclosures--illustrates a side-problem of Woodward's methodology. He gets close to his high-level sources, almost becoming a player in the narrative he is chronicling. Consequently, he becomes entangled in the story and cannot disclose to the reader all he knows. Woodward came under criticism last year when the news broke that he, too, had been leaked information about Valerie Wilson but had not told his editors (or readers) about this. What compounded his problem was that Woodward had gone on television and radio shows to dismiss the leak investigation and criticize Fitzgerald, without revealing that he had had a personal stake in the matter because a source of his had been a target.

No doubt, Armitage, who was damn fed-up with the White House and the Pentagon, didn't want these jobs. In Hubris, he's quoted referring to the armchair warriors of the White House and the Defense Department as "a bunch of jerks." Woodward's depiction of these episodes places Armitage squarely in a place of principle. Regardless of his feelings toward the White House and the Pentagon leadership, Armitage couldn't accept either post because of his central role in the Plame scandal. Woodward had reason to know that, but he didn't report it.

Woodward's book has little in it about the Plame affair--just a few short mentions. That was his choice. But he does provide an interesting nugget related to the case. He reports that after 2005, Cheney no longer had a visible role in the management of Iraq. Once Scooter Libby was indicted in the leak case in October 2005 and resigned, Woodward writes,

Cheney was lost without Libby, many of the vice president's close associates felt. Libby had done so much of the preparation for the vice president's meetings and events, and so much of the hard work. He had been almost part of Cheney's brain.

So one consequence of the leak case, according to Woodward's account, was that it took Cheney out of the game. Readers of Woodward's book can decide whether that was a positive or negative development.

******

This was first posted on www.davidcorn.com.

INFO ON HUBRIS: Tom Brokaw says "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 more information on Hubris, click here.

The House Republican Leadership Scandal

The Mark Foley Scandal is over. The Florida Republican congressman who sent "Do I make you horny?" messages to teenage pages has resigned his seat and gone into rehab. He needed help and, now, he's getting it. There will be a few more salacious revelations--like today's report that the congressman was such a multi-tasker that he balanced the sending of racy instant messages with his duty to show up for floor votes -- and perhaps some legal playout to this sad tale. But Foley's political journey is finished.

The Republican Congressional Leadership Scandal is most definitely not over. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, House Republican Congressional Campaign Committee chair Tom Reynolds, R-New York, and other leaders of the GOP caucus who knew about the Foley problem and did little or nothing to deal with it, have been exposed for what they are: Political animals who care about nothing--absolutely nothing--except maintaining power.

How determined were these key Republicans to keep their grip on Congress in what has turned into an exceptionally troublesome election year for the party? On Monday, it was revealed that, as recently as last week, an aide to Reynolds tried to get ABC News investigative reporter Brian Ross, who broke the Foley story, to kill it. In return for joining the cover-up, Ross was offered an exclusive on what the GOP leaders had hoped would be a neatly-wrapped, relatively uncontroversial story of Foley's decision to step down "for personal reasons." According to Ross, "I said we're not making any deals."

The fact of the last-minute attempt to cut those deals gives a painfully accurate reading of the "moral values" and the political priorities of the Republican leadership circle.

That reality does not make the Republicans particularly worse than the Democrats, who are certainly not above clawing for power and practicing the politics of "victory at any cost." But, in two meaningful senses, the leaders of the Grand Old Party are distinguished from the leaders of the not particularly grand opposition party:

1. The Republicans are in charge. Hastert, Boehner, Reynolds and their compatriots and co-conspirators run the Congress. In fact, they have run things more tightly than any majority in decades. As such, this particular scandal, cannot be blamed on others. Republicans own the House, they set the rules, they determine what is acceptable and what is unacceptable. They have all the power, and their obvious lack of concern for anything except maintaining that power is now exposed.

2. The Republicans have secured and maintained that power--which is used almost exclusively to enrich their wealthy political allies, contributors and supporters--by convincing millions of working-class Americans who are sincerely socially conservative to vote against their class interests in order to satisfy their moral interests. Suddenly, the dubious political construct on which the modern Republican Party has stood has been exposed. Social conservatives have been alerted to the fact that morality has never been a high priority of the corporate "conservatives" who call the shots in the Congressional leadership of what they thought was God's Own Party.

That news comes at a time when Republicans, already battered by President Bush's dwindling approval ratings and the Abramoff lobbying scandal, are scrambling to maintain control of the House. The timing for the GOP really could not be worse, not because of the scandal's potential to cause social conservatives to vote for Democrats but because of the potential that it will cause so-called "moral-values" voters to turn away from the political process. Few political realities are more certain than this: If social conservatives don't turn out on election day, Republicans don't win.

Even the usually hapless Democrats have recognized the opening and are beginning to exploit it. Democratic candidates are calling on Republican House members to renounce Hastert and Boehner, to give back money not just from Foley's political action committee but from those of the Republican leaders, and--in the last few hours--to demand Hastert's resignation. In a key Pennsylvania House race, Chris Carney, the Democratic challenger to scandal-plagued Republican Don Sherwood, called on the incumbent to cancel scheduled fundraising events with GOP House leaders. "Sherwood should immediately cancel his upcoming fundraisers with Hastert and Boehner," argued Carney. "Don Sherwood has already brought Washington's values back to the district, now he wants to bring a depraved cover-up home."

The reach of this issue is evident even beyond congressional races; in Wisconsin, where Republican Congressman Mark Green is challenging Democratic Governor Jim Doyle, the Doyle campaign is telling reporters: "It is past time for Congressman Green to display some real leadership and add his voice to the growing chorus of voices calling for Speaker Hastert to resign."

This is an incredibly volatile moment, so volatile that the Republicans may be inclined to sacrifice one of their own in order to deflect attention from the broader crisis of confidence. The party cannot afford to have its social conservative base vote suppressed by disgust, or even confusion, over Hastert's actions--and inactions.

Already, the conservative Washington Times, an influential voice in Republican circles, has called for Hastert's immediate resignation. "House Speaker Dennis Hastert must do the only right thing, and resign his speakership at once," the newspaper's editors wrote Tuesday morning. Conservative talk-radio hosts, including Michael Reagan, the son of the former president, have been similarly tough on the leadership.

How seriously are top Republican taking the demands for a house cleaning? Seriously enough to begin lobbing bombs at one another.

In an interview with radio station WLW in Cincinnati, Boehner was pointing the finger of blame at Hastert. "[It's] in his corner. It's his responsibility," the Number 2 Republican in the House said. "The Clerk of the House, who runs the page program, the page board, all report to the speaker, and I believed it had been dealt with."

A few hours later, Boehner seemed to be backtracking--as several members of the leadership have after attempting to deflect fallout from the scandal. The majority leader issued a statement claiming that "no one in the leadership, including Speaker Hastert, had any knowledge of the warped and sexually explicit instant messages."

That is, of course, a lie. But it is a necessary lie, as all evidence suggests that Boehner was at least as fully informed of the details of the sexually explicit communications as was Hastert in the months before they became public. Thus, while many conservative activists might be willing to sacrifice Hastert --perhaps the most expendable Speaker of the House in history -- there is little reason to believe that doing so would make this House Republican Leadership Scandal go away.

A Party Without a Soul

What, if anything, do Republicans stand for anymore?

The party that promised to restore honor and integrity to Washington brought us Jack Abramoff, Tom DeLay and now, Mark Foley and the subsequent cover-up.

The President that campaigned against nation-building got us into a $1 trillion quagmire in Iraq.

An Administration that pledged to maintain fiscal discipline turned a $127 billion surplus into a $300 billion budget deficit and presided over the larger expansion of government since LBJ.

I could go on and on.

The Democrats aren't exactly a profile in clarity. But Republicans today give nihilism a good name.

Hurray that the Washington Times and other conservatives are calling for Dennis Hastert and his minions in the House leadership to resign.

But the GOP's problems began long before Mark Foley started soliciting underage boys.

Wal-Mart's Latest Markdown

Taking time out from its nonstop coverage of the "early admission" policies of a few elite colleges -- could this newspaper appeal to an even tinier, more rarefied demographic? -- the New York Times ran a good front-page story this morning on Wal-Mart's new plan, as revealed in an internal memo, to implement pay caps and increase the percentage of part-time employees in its workforce.

Obviously, some at the company didn't feel the workers were exploited enough! The paper also reported something that I have been hearing from Wal-Mart workers for a long time; scheduling is essentially at the whim of managers, particularly impossible for workers who have children, but hard on all workers struggling to plan their lives (and their budgets, given that they might work 20 hours one week, and eight the next).

It's important that the affluent, urban consumers that Wal-Mart so badly needs not be seduced by the retailer's new offerings -- 400-threadcount sheets, organic food and Earth's-new-best-friend image -- but keep the pressure on the company to improve work conditions, by continuing to shop elsewhere, and to protest Wal-Mart's ever-insistent expansion. The company is betting that its new target -- the Starbucks customer -- doesn't really care about workers' rights, but will go starry-eyed at the first few nebulous signs of "corporate responsibility."