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The Nation

Bush Stonewalls on Pre-9/ll Knowledge

The scene: a hut somewhere near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

Al Qaeda Terrorist Number One: I have good news to report.

Al Qaeda Terrorist Number Two: What is it?

AQT1: We have achieved a major breakthrough in learning how the infidels in America intend to pursue their campaign against us. With this information, we will be able to strike again.

AQT2: What is this important information?

AQT1: That the President is briefed by the CIA and other spy services on what they learn of our plans.

AQT2: Now that we know the President is informed by his lackeys we are in a better position to deliver chaos and death upon them. Praise Allah.

Believe it or not, the Bush administration is suggesting that an absurd scenario of that sort is possible. As proof, look at the first page of the report released days ago by the House and Senate intelligence committees' joint inquiry examining September 11. "The Director of Central Intelligence," the relevant passage says, "has declined to declassify two issues of particular importance to this Inquiry." One was the identity of a key al Qaeda leader (since identified by the news media as Khalid Sheik Mohammed). The other was "any references to the Intelligence Community providing information to the President or White House." The report went on, "According to the DCI, the President's knowledge of intelligence information relevant to this Inquiry remains classified even when the substance of that intelligence information has been declassified."

That is, the administration will declassify intelligence information, but it will keep classified the fact that this material was (or was not) shared with the President or anyone else at the White House. The administration's position is that it can tell the public about intelligence reports the government gathered regarding potential acts of terrorism before September 11 without harming national security, but if it must reveal whether these reports were brought to the attention of George W. Bush or his aides, that would endanger the United States. (This is different from the customary Bush White House arguments about executive privilege and preserving Bush's and Dick Cheney's ability to hear frank talk from such crucial advisers as energy industry lobbyists.)

If there were a secrecy-meter for the secrecy-loving Bush White House, this latest move would peg the needle in the red zone. After all, if information that was shared with Bush is made public, how could Bush's awareness (or unawareness) of that information be considered a vital secret? But the administration is indeed maintaining that the country's enemies, as they currently plot against America, could somehow exploit knowledge of Bush's knowledge of past intelligence reporting.

The reason for this silly White House maneuver appears obvious: to avoid further debate on what Bush did or did not know about the prospect of domestic terrorism attacks prior to 9/11--and how he reacted to what he was told. Four months ago, Bush got burned when news reports revealed he had received a general briefing on August 6, 2001, suggesting al Qaeda was aiming to hit the United States. As Bush plans his war against Iraq, administration officials surely do not want a similar distraction. Had they not censored the intelligence committees, such a diversion might have occurred, for on page 23 of the report sits a landmine:

"A briefing prepared for senior government officials at the beginning of July 2001 contained the following language: 'Based on a review of all-source reporting over the last five months, we believe that UBL [Usama bin Laden] will launch a significant terrorist attack against US and/or Israeli interests in the coming weeks. The attack will be spectacular and designed to inflict mass casualties against US facilities or interests. Attack preparations have been made. Attack will occur with little or no warning.'"

This was a much more to-the-point briefing than the August 6 one that caused the fuss. But who received it? What intelligence sources was it based on? Most importantly, what did those senior government officials do in response? The report does not say. Yet imagine the reaction if the report explicitly stated that Bush and top White House officials had been told in July, 2001, that a "spectacular" al Qaeda attack was weeks away.

That is the obvious inference. After a recent hearing held by the intelligence committees, a journalist asked Senator Bob Graham, a Florida Democrat who chairs the Senate panel, if a reader could assume that prior to being censored the report read "the President and White House officials" in the many spots where it now says "senior government officials." Graham jokingly nodded his head without saying anything. Adopting a more serious demeanor, he said that "if the underlying information has been declassified I see no reason that who received it should be classified. How else do you hold people accountable?"

Precisely. The committees' job is to examine and judge how the government performed prior to 9/11--and tell the public what happened. A significant part of that mission is determining what information made it to the White House and what was done by the President and his aides. But Bush is stonewalling.

Classifying this type of information, Graham remarked, "is new to me....I do not understand how, as a blanket reason, that serves national security interests." Is the White House trying to cover up an embarrassment? a reporter asked. With a smile, Graham replied, "I'm not in the psychotherapy business." He vowed that the House and Senate intelligence committees will continue to negotiate with the White House to declassify this and other material ordered withheld by the administration.

The report overall is a damning document, indicating the national security establishment had plenty of warnings--more so than publicly known before--that al Qaeda was considering using airplanes as weapons. Yet no one in the intelligence community--as it is called--acted seriously on this information. (In one instance, an intelligence agency in 1998 received a report that an Arab group, which later was possibly linked to al Qaeda, planned to fly an explosives-laden plane from a foreign country into the World Trade Center. The FAA and FBI were informed; neither took action. Intelligence officials, though, have claimed this report, which originated with a police official in a Caribbean nation, was not deemed credible and that its significance has been exaggerated by the committees.) As the staff report bemoans, "While this method of attack had clearly been discussed in terrorist circles, there was apparently little, if any, effort by Intelligence Community analysts to produce any strategic assessment of terrorists using aircraft as weapons." (The committees' report undermines national security adviser Condoleeza Rice's post-attack assertion that no one could have imagined such an assault.) And the study notes that after CIA chief George Tenet in 1998 declared "we are at war" with bin Laden, "there was no massive shift in budget" and many within the intelligence establishment did not get the message. It shows, sadly, there were many more dots than previously revealed that went unconnected.

The report--the first of several supposedly to come from the committees--went further than expected in demonstrating that the intelligence establishment missed concrete signs of a specific threat and failed to plan for it. But it also revealed--once more--the Bush fondness for excessive secrecy. The President, who likes to champion responsibility, is abusing the classification system to prevent an evaluation of how he and White House officials handled their own responsibilities. A commander-in-chief who hides behind a phony claim of national security hardly deserves public confidence as he preps for war.

De-Saddamization, Not Disarmament

"No sensible person wants to go to war if war can be avoided." So said Secretary of State Colin Powell on September 15. Next time he is at the White House, he should take a good look around.

The day after Powell made that remark, Saddam Hussein offered unconditionally to permit UN weapons inspectors back into Iraq, after a four-year hiatus. His move, as skeptics quickly noted, was predictable. It split the UN which had been moving toward supporting--or yielding to--Bush's get-Iraq demand and gave Arab states and France, Russia and China (three-fifths of the permanent members of the UN Security Council, each with soft-on-Saddam governments) reason to call for slowing down the march to war. Just as predictable was the administration's response, as George W. Bush and his advisers dismissed the offer as an irrelevant ploy. They seemed irritated their express train to war, which was picking up momentum, had encountered a bad piece of track. Rather than slow down and take a look, they decided, let's ignore the bump, full speed ahead.

But if no sensible person wants a war that can be avoided, why not call Saddam's bluff? Bush's supposed aim has been disarmament in Iraq. The administration has sold "regime change"--that semi-polite term for ousting Saddam with military force--as a means for ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction. Powell, in the past, has raised the prospect that an aggressive, intrusive, unfettered, and robust weapons inspection program could achieve this, while Vice President Dick Cheney has said it could not. But even though Bush cited Iraqi repression and human rights violations during his speech last week at the UN, the publicly-stated concern driving administration policy has been Saddam's development of WMD. After all, is Bush proposing war against other nations that treat citizens brutally and do not allow for religious, political and civil freedom? Say, China, Qatar, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Jordan? What makes Saddam different, we're told, is his development and potential use (which might include sharing) of horrific weaponry.

Inspections address this central point. The Bush administration and its conservative supporters in the punditry, though, have denied this. Testifying before the House armed services committee on September 18, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld--after being interrupted by protesters chanting, "inspections, not war"--said, "The goal isn't inspections. The goal is disarmament....You can only have inspections when a country is cooperating with you."

That is not entirely so. Inspections are part of a disarmament campaign, and cooperation is not a black-and-white matter. From 1991 to 1998, UN inspectors faced a tough time in Iraq, for Saddam--big surprise--did not assist them. His government, for example, claimed it had no major biological weapons. Yet the inspectors uncovered such a program. (At the UN, Bush misleadingly attributed this important success to the defection of an Iraqi defector. But the UN inspectors had discovered these bioweapons months before this defection.) The inspectors also learned the Iraqi nuclear weapons program was further along than Saddam's government had acknowledged. With this information in hand, the inspectors dismantled Iraq's capacity to enrich uranium--a crucial step in bomb-making.

The right sort of inspections can lead to disarmament and can inhibit WMD development. During the seven years UN inspectors played cat-and-mouse with Saddam, his regime did not apparently make great strides on the WMD front. Not that Saddam may not have tried. But it's been four years since inspections ended, and none of the go-to-war-now crowd is today arguing Saddam possesses nuclear weapons. If Iraq was months away from a nuclear bomb at the end of the Gulf War in 1991--as the Bush administration and others claim (perhaps rightfully)--then it is clear that those seven years of inspections and dismantlement set him back, for there is no evidence that in the past four years Saddam has achieved what he was once months away from achieving.

Inspections without a cooperating regime did make a difference. As Jessica Mathews, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, noted, "In their first five years, the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM), which was responsible for inspecting and disarming Iraq's chemical, biological, and missile materials and capacities, and the [International Atomic Energy Agency] Iraq Action Team, which did the same for Iraq's nuclear ones, achieved substantial successes. With sufficient human and technological resources, time, and political support, inspections can reduce Iraq's WMD threat, if not to zero, to a negligible level." She defines inspections as "a resumed discovery and disarmament phase and intrusive, ongoing monitoring and verification extending to dual-use facilities and the activities of key individuals." By claiming the choice is between inspections and disarmament, Rumsfeld is being disingenuous. Inspections are aimed directly at disarmament. Regime change may be. But one targets a sometimes hard-to-find bull's eye, while the other seeks to blow up the entire firing range in order to get that red circle.

Why not try the first course, before resorting to blasting away? The White House and the UN should call Saddam's bluff. Send in the inspectors ASAP and test the unconditionality of the offer. It may take a while--months to a year--to scope out Iraq's WMD programs, but it should not take long to determine if Iraq is serious about giving the inspectors free run.

This is the approach backed by Richard Butler, former chief UN weapons inspector. One of the most passionate advocates of Iraqi disarmament, Butler has been a human-rights-oriented hawk on Iraq. During the summer, he appeared before the Senate foreign relations committee and was somewhat supportive of military action against Saddam. After Iraq said it would permit the return of inspectors, Butler remarked, "We don't have to be grateful for what Iraq has done. They are outlaws, they are outside the law; we have to assess carefully a decision by them to come back under the law and this seems to be a step in the right direction....Saying that the inspectors can come back to Iraq without condition is good--that's the first step. But what we really need to see is that inspectors are allowed to do their work when they get there, without conditions; in other words, unfettered access to any place or person that they need in order to do their job, and we won't know that until they get there."

Butler, despite his deep skepticism toward Saddam, views this as an opportunity, not an irritation. The Bush clan ought to do the same. But Team Bush--sometimes Powell, too--seem eager to shoot down any other options but regime-change war. (Other war-lite options include inspections backed by force, as the Carnegie Endowment has proposed, or strikes against WMD sites.) There may be risks involved in permitting Iraq to weasel its way through a round of inspection follies. Perhaps Saddam will gain more time to pursue what the administration fears he is pursuing. But that risk has to be considered along side the risks of military action--especially military action that could end up being mostly unilateral.

The Bush administration doesn't seem much interested in avoiding full-scale conflict. It would rather have a blank-check authorization from Congress than an inspection regimen in place. The White House is bent on regime change in and of itself. Sure, a military attack designed to achieve de-Saddamization might impede Iraq's WMD programs. But it might have many other consequences as well. Clearly, the goal is war, not disarmament. Secretary Powell, call your office.

US Rep. Rahall Speaks in Iraq

US Rep. Nick Rahall's policy pronouncements tend toward announcements about extending water and sewer service in southern West Virginia, or the erection of safety barriers on dangerous stretches of Interstate 64. So much of official Washington was caught by surprise when the West Virginia Democrat appeared before the Iraqi Assembly Sunday "as a member of Congress concerned with peace" and declared, "Basically, I want America and Iraq to give peace a chance."

"Instead of assuming that war must come, let us find ways to discover how to prove that war is unnecessary," Rahall told the Iraqis. "It is time and, in my opinion, far past time that American andIraqi officials talk to each other without threats."

Rahall's trip to Baghdad, which followed President Bush's saber-rattling address to the United Nations General Assembly, drew international attention to a congressman who has spent most of his quarter century on Capitol Hill securing funding for road projects and mine safety initiatives. Unlike Bush, however, Rahall is no newcomer to Middle East affairs.

The grandson and namesake of a Lebanese immigrant who in 1903 settled in Beckley, West Virginia, Rahall approaches debates over Middle East policy from a unique perspective in a Congress with only a handful of Arab-American members. Proud of his ethnicity, Rahall frequently quotes a line from Lebanese-American entertainer Danny Thomas: "He who denies his heritage has no heritage."

Rahall has been a frequent visitor to Lebanon, Israel and other Middle Eastern nations -- traveling as a member of Congressional delegations and on his own to his grandfather's hometown of Kfier, Lebanon. A graduate of Duke University who earned his political spurs as an aide to legendary West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd, Rahall has quietly developed a level of expertise on Middle East issues that few members of Congress can rival.

Rahall has frequently parted company with the overwhelming majority of his colleagues on those issues. In 1993, for instance, the House considered a resolution declaring that "the Arab boycott of Israel is detrimental to the peace process in the Middle East and should be discontinued forthwith." It passed, by a margin of 425-1.

More recently, the West Virginia Democrat was one of 11 House members to oppose a December 2001, resolution expressing solidarity with Israel. In May, when the House voted on a resolution that praised Israel's fight against terrorism while placing blame for violence in the region on Palestinian leaders, Rahall cast one of just 21 "no" votes.

While Rahall's votes may look controversial to national observers, they have caused him little grief in West Virginia, where he is regularly reelected with little or no opposition. The congressman is known for maintaining good relations – and an open dialogue -- with both Arab-American and Jewish constituents. Additionally, Rahall's voting record on Middle East issues tends to parallel that of his old boss, Senator Byrd. And, like Byrd, he devotes so much time and energy to bringing infrastructure projects to southern West Virginia that foreign policy issues are rarely part of the homestate debate.

Rahall has won high marks even from those who disagree with him for his expertise and for his attention to humanitarian issues that are often lost in Middle East policy debates. A thoughtful critic of Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat, former Syrian President Hafez al-Assad and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's actions, Rahall voted in favor of the 1991 Congressional resolution supporting the Persian Gulf War. In the years since, however, he has been in the forefront of questioning the wisdom of US policies toward Iraq.

Rahall signed the letter, initiated by Representatives Tom Campbell (R-CA) and John Conyers (D-MI), that, for humanitarian reasons, called for the lifting of economic sanctions against Iraq. Last week, Rahall cited similar concerns, saying he has decided to travel to Baghdad to "help illuminate the plight of the Iraqi people."

"I'm not going as Secretary of State. I'm not going as a weapons inspector. I'm going as an individual who'd like to cool this rhetoric and act in a calm matter, and show the Iraqi people that the American people are not warmongers," he said on the eve of the trip to Iraq, which he took in the company of former South Dakota Senator James Abourezk. (Rahall and Abourezk made the trip as part of a delegation organized by the Institute for Public Accuracy.)

Rahall said he also was making the trip because of his doubts about whether the Bush administration has made a case for waging war against Iraq at this time.

"Why now, two months before an election? Why was the threat so serious now that it wasn't a year ago. I've seen certainly no link of Iraq to 9/11," Rahall said. "I just don't see a linkage there."

Bush Tells UN, Make War or I Will

Let us stipulate that Saddam Hussein is a scumbag. He has run a brutal and murderous dictatorship, repressed significant numbers of his people, sought to develop weapons of mass destruction, invaded a neighbor, used chemical weapons against Kurdish civilians and Iranians, and defied various UN resolutions. Delivering his Big Speech at the UN on Thursday morning, President George W. Bush covered Saddam's infamy in detail (without noting, by the way, how the Reagan-Bush administration in the 1980s provided Saddam with assistance while he was using chemical weapons during his war against Iran). The President cited the numerous times the UN Security Council has declared Iraq in breach of resolutions ordering it to rid itself of weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles. But Bush presented no heretofore unknown information about the threat posed by Iraq. And he offered no specific proposals on how to deal with the threat--real or hyped. He was making a case for despising Hussein (as if that was needed). But his case for war against Iraq remained vague. His message was, either you do something, or I will. That is, Bush said nothing new.

The speech was a lecture. Claiming he desired a United Nations that is "effective...and successful," Bush tried to guilt-trip the General Assembly into accepting his hardline approach. He argued the UN must do so in order to be taken seriously: "All the world now faces a test, and the United Nations a difficult and defining moment. Are Security Council resolutions to be honored and enforced, or cast aside without consequence? Will the United Nations serve the purpose of its founding, or will it be irrelevant?" Worrying about the strength and credibility of the UN is a new position for the Bush administration, which has repeatedly ignored or opposed consensus positions of the UN, such as its support for an international criminal court. (A partial list of these instances appears in the preceding column; click on the link below.)

But Bush signaled that actually he, too, held no true respect for the UN. For in the nut-graph (as a newspaper editor would call it) of his speech, Bush declared that if the UN decides his particular course of confrontation with Iraq--whatever that might entail--is not appropriate, he is willing to defy the body and move against Iraq on his own. "We will work with the UN Security Council for the necessary resolutions," he said. "But the purposes of the United States should not be doubted. The Security Council's resolutions will be enforced--the just demands of peace and security will be met--or action will be unavoidable. And a regime that has lost its legitimacy will lose its power." In keeping with his with-us-or-against-us approach to foreign policy, he was telling the UN that its standing depends upon on whether it agrees with him.

Bush mentioned nothing about any effort to revive aggressive and robust weapons inspections in Iraq, nothing about possible stricter sanctions, nothing about military options shy of those designed to achieve regime change (such as strikes against Iraq's suspected WMD facilities, should there be proof these sites present a danger). Bush was dismissive of all paths but war. "We've been more than patient," he remarked. "We've tried sanctions. We've tried the carrot of oil for food, and the stick of coalition military strikes.'" And none of it, he suggested, has worked. So the question hovers, what does Bush expect the UN to do? The only alternative he seems willing to accept is a war to remove Saddam.

Nor did Bush discuss the challenge of what would come after such an event--other than a new Iraq that "can one day join a democratic Afghanistan and a democratic Palestine." (No word from Bush on the prospects of a "democratic" Saudi Arabia or a "democratic" Jordan.) And he praised his administration's actions in Afghanistan. But the post-war scene there remains a mess, and even Republicans on Capitol Hill have griped that the United States has not done enough in terms of providing security and assistance to that fractured (and fractious) nation. Present-day Afghanistan--which may be an improvement for many Afghans over the time of the Taliban--is hardly a good sales-pitch for war against Iraq.

As far as the public knows, Bush so far has failed to persuade any head of state--but Britain's Tony Blair--that war against Saddam is necessary at this point. He hasn't even won over key advisers to his dad, including former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft and former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger. His UN address brought nothing fresh to the podium. Bush was not leading; he was pushing.

Bush at the UN: The Charade Before the Crusade

"'Don't worry. We've got a plan. We purposefully let the Iraq issue stay in no-man's-land for a while. But we know what we're doing.' That's what senior people at the White House tell me," the Reverend Lou Sheldon, the chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition, informs me while we're waiting for sandwiches. (It pays to favor the Capitol Hill deli fancied by a leader of the religious right.) "I sure hope so," he adds.

There does seem to be a plan in the works. August, as White House chief of staff Andrew Card told a reporter, is an awful time to "introduce new products"--such as a war. So the Bush administration waited until back-to-school week to add the latest lyrics to its beating of the war drums. As part of the run-up to Bush's September 12 speech at the UN--in which, the White House promises, he will lay out the case for confronting Saddam Hussein--the big cahunas of Bush's posse hit the Sunday shows to issue the pre-case for going to war with Iraq.

This whole operation has a fake air to it, for Bush and Dick Cheney have already talked themselves into a corner. Bush has repeatedly cited Saddam as an immediate and direct threat to the United States and the entire world. Cheney has said time is of the essence and that even a revived weapons inspection program in Iraq would not undo this threat. In fact, he argued, a program to monitor and disarm Saddam would only provide a false sense of comfort and allow Saddam more time to become more of a menace. With such rhetoric, the Bush administration has left itself with no option other than a military strike against Saddam.

Meanwhile, Bush and his lieutenants have already been trying to make the case. For months, they have been on the phone and in meetings with European, Asian and Middle Eastern allies, desperately seeking partners for the crusade against Saddam. Only one other leader so far has signed up--British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Most others have publicly distanced themselves from the administration's get-Saddam-now urgings. Is Bush going to say anything much different at the UN than what he and his people have already told the allies?

Bush may have one more chance with his UN speech. But the pre-speech chatter from the administration showed that Team Bush has still not come together on the fine points of its war against Iraq. On Fox News Sunday, Secretary of State Colin Powell said that "disarmament is the issue" and that the reason for "regime change" (the administration's euphemism for attacking Iraq) is to "make sure" Iraq is disarmed. Yet when Tim Russert asked Cheney on Meet The Press whether the goal is "disarmament or regime change," Cheney replied, "The President's made it clear that the goal of the United States is regime change." (Guess Powell missed that memo.) On CNN, Wolf Blitzer asked national security adviser Condoleeza Rice if the Iraqi government was linked to al Qaeda. She responded, "There is certainly evidence that al Qaeda people have been in Iraq. There is certainly evidence that Saddam Hussein cavorts with terrorists." Asked if Iraq has been "working with and supporting al Qaeda," Powell said, "We cannot yet make a definitive conclusion that such a thing has occurred." On this subject, Cheney said, "there has been reporting that suggests that there have been a number of contacts over the years" between Iraq and al Qaeda. He did not elaborate on this vague but provocative assertion.

Powell noted that a "more robust and aggressive" inspection regime would be worth pursuing, claiming the issue was "under consideration." Cheney stuck to his previous stand on inspections but without reiterating his forceful opposition: "I'm a real skeptic." As to why America's allies have left Bush in the lurch, Cheney said, "I don't think they know the same information" as the Bush administration. Powell, though, remarked, "I think they know enough to come to the same conclusion."

Pity the viewer who watched all the interviews. With days to go to the Big Speech, there still was not one set of talking points. But the Bush advisers did agree that Bush intended to pressure the UN to move against Saddam. As Powell commented, in the face of Iraqi violations of UN resolutions ordering Saddam to give up his weapons of mass destruction, "the United Nations should feel offended, the United Nations should feel that something has to be done." Powell said Bush will deliver "a strong message that it's time [for the UN] to do something."

This is Texas-sized chutzpah. The Bush administration has repeatedly told the UN to get lost. A partial list: it opposed the Kyoto protocol on global warming; it boycotted a UN conference held to encourage states to sign the comprehensive test ban treaty, which outlaws nuclear tests; it refused to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibits the execution of juveniles; it walked out of a UN conference on racism over fear that the meeting would condemn Israel; it rejected a draft UN agreement to enforce a biological weapons ban that was supported by almost every other participating nation; it opposed a UN initiative against torture that established an inspection process, out of concern this would lead to monitors in US prisons, especially the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay; and it successfully led smear-like campaigns to oust the UN human rights commissioner, Mary Robinson, and the head of the UN agency that overseas the chemical weapons treaty.

The Bush gang has displayed little respect for the UN. Often when the UN has declared a priority, the Bush administration has dismissed the body's concern. Yet now Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld says, "I think it is probably not a good thing for the United Nations to be laughed at and sneered at and disobeyed and...to not be significant enough....And for the United Nations to acquiesce in that, it seems to me, is an unfortunate thing."

What if the UN this time around does the spurning? "We'd like to do it with the sanction of the international community," Cheney commented, without defining the "it." Yet he added: "But the point in Iraq is this problem has to be dealt with one way or another." By the way, he said the same regarding Congress. In other words, it would be nice to have you with us, but we don't need you.

So Bush's UN trip is something of a high-risk but mandatory charade. Critics at home and abroad say he has to win foreign support for his campaign against Iraq. His administration has accepted that he needs to take a stab at that, but it is clearly signaling it is willing, if not eager, to saddle up alone. Given Bush's failure to date to convince any head of state other than Blair--and his inability to persuade Republican Senators like Chuck Hagel and Larry Craig and former Bush I officials like Brent Scowcroft and Larry Eagleburger--the UN speech is unlikely to change many minds. But that probably won't matter. The plan will remain the same.

The Ugly Face of American Politics

There was a huge outcry in France this summer over a move by allies of French President Jacques Chirac to narrow the character and quality of that country's political competition. Stung by recent shows of electoral strength by the nationalist right and the Green and Trotskyist left, France's political establishment is preparing to rewrite election rules in order to essentially assure that only traditional major parties of the center-right and center-left can prevail in elections for the domestic and European parliaments. Objections from across the political spectrum echo a similar theme: The changes proposed by the insiders in Paris would "Americanize" that country's politics.

Casual observers in the United States might object to the notion that there is something wrong with Americanizing the politics of France or any other country. But they should understand that the complaint is grounded in our own experience in the US. For all the frenzy and hype of the cable television commentators and the vast political industry that now operates inside the Washington beltway, our country's political processes have become so leaden and disengaged that they no longer are deemed worthy of attention by the majority of voters. Almost two-thirds of America's eligible voters (64 percent in 1994, 66 percent in 1998) no longer participate in Congressional elections, and the most hotly contested presidential election in a generation (the unsettling and unsettled 2000 contest between Democratic Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush) could barely draw half the electorate to the polls.

The range of opinion expressed at the upper levels of American political discourse have been narrowing for more than a decade, as marketing men and women have taken over the levels of power in both the Democratic and Republican parties. Even a misguided war and the threat of its expansion to dramatic new levels of folly, corporate scandals of epic economic consequence and the clear corruption of executive branch decision making musters little in the way of straight talk in a Congress where the calculation of campaign contributions takes precedence at every turn over Constitutional responsibilities and the public interest.

As bad as things may be in American politics, however, there are always those who would make things worse. And, in Georgia's recent Congressional primaries, they succeeded in doing just that. The defeats of US Representative Cynthia McKinney, perhaps the most radical member of the Democratic caucus, and of US Representative Bob Barr, perhaps the most radical member of the Republican caucus, in their respective party primaries will remove two of the few independent voices from a Congress that already suffers from a deficit of dissenters. As such, an already narrow national debate will, at least at the Congressional level, grow narrower still.

To be sure, both McKinney and Barr have been controversial figures. McKinney has been a fierce critic of the foreign and domestic policies of Democratic and Republican administrations since her election in 1992. Often echoing the Green Party's critique of the two major parties, she has not hesitated to accuse Bill Clinton, Al Gore, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney of racial and ethnic insensitivity, and she has been one of the House's loudest critics of the "Israel First" approach of Democratic and Republican congressional leaders to Middle East affairs.

Like McKinney, Barr has since his election to Congress in the "Republican Revolution" election of 1994, been a thorn in the side of both parties. Though he is a more consistent partisan than McKinney, the intensity of his passions has frightened his own party's leadership in the House -- especially when he has refused to trim his sails to match the dictates of GOP pollsters.

McKinney and Barr have both stretched the limits of the political discourse -- the Democrat with her suggestions that the Bush administration might have failed to counter terrorist threats in order to pump up profits for corporations to which members of the administration and their families were closely tied; the Republican with a sex, lies and videotape assault on Bill Clinton's morals that continued long after even Ken Starr had recognized that the nation's Puritan ethic was on the wane.

Yet, the willingness of McKinney and Barr to stretch political limits often put them in exactly the right place. That was certainly the case last fall when, barely a month after the September 11terrorist attacks, they were part of the Congressional minority that refused to support the draconian USA PATRIOT ACT. Remember that it was Barr, a man whose civil rights credentials could hardly be called impressive, who sided with members of the Congressional Black Caucus such as McKinney and California's Maxine Waters to sound the alarm about the threat John Ashcroft's legislative agenda posed to civil liberties.

When McKinney and Barr pushed at the barriers of our politics -- even when they pushed too far -- they gave voice in Congress to the conversations that really go on in America. Freed of the stifling constraints of poll-driven centrism, they made a representative democracy more genuinely representative of all the opinions seriously in play in the land. As such, they both developed national constituencies -- in July, for instance, McKinney was the only Democratic politician invited to address the Green Party's national convention, and she continues to be boomed by some in that party as a potential 2004 presidential candidate. But, even as they "went national," McKinney and Barr won reelection easily and consistently in Georgia.

So what changed this year? In the case of both McKinney and Barr, they fell victim to the structural pressures exerted mainly from Washington by political strategists in both parties who struggle mightily to neuter our political process and the rich and rigorous national debates that should arise from it.

In McKinney's case, much has been made of the funding of his primary challenger, former Georgia State Court Judge Denise Majette, by pro-Israel campaign contributors. After McKinney's defeat, the candidate's father, a veteran civil rights activist and Georgia legislator, bluntly declared that his daughter's reelection had been thwarted by "J-E-W-S." But, as in the June Alabama Democratic primary that saw the defeat of U.S. representative Earl Hilliard, another critic of U.S. policies regarding Israel, the story of McKinney's defeat in a more complex and concerning one.

Majette took advantage of a corrupt campaign finance system that allows a candidate who is unable to garner support at the grassroots in her home district to collect money nationally. And a good deal of Majette's national money did indeed come from supporters of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's hardline policies -- just as a portion of McKinney's money came from supporters of Palestinian rights. But Majette's fund raising success -- she dramatically out-raised McKinney as the election approached -- also benefited from the determination of Democratic Leadership Council types, good-old-boy southern conservatives such as U.S. Senator Zell Miller, D-Ga., and the business interests they represent to cleanse the Democratic party of outspoken critics of corporate abuses and free trade policies such as McKinney and Hilliard.

Majette, who like McKinney is an African-American woman, also took advantage of political processes designed by southern segregationist politicians to insure that all white voters could coalesce to defeat progressive candidates in Democratic primaries. Georgia law allows Republicans to vote in Democratic primaries, and they did so in droves in the McKinney-Majette race. While African-American Democrats turned out in tepid numbers, the Atlanta Journal Constitution noted that "a swarm of Republicans" took Democratic primary ballots. "The Republicans made a difference (in defeating McKinney)," explained the Rev. Joseph Lowery, the longtime Southern Christian Leadership Council leader who now heads the Georgia Coalition for the People's Agenda, a civil rights group. "They provided the margin (for Majette), which is unethical." Lowery is right; had Georgia primary voting been limited to party members -- as is the case in most American states -- McKinney might well have won. That one of the House's most outspoken supporters of civil rights may have gone down to defeat because of a political system rigged decades ago to undermine African-American political advancement is less ironic than it is a measure of the poor job progressives in Georgia and nationally have done when it comes to eliminating the structural vestiges of segregationist politics. As in the disputed Florida presidential vote of 2000, the old segregationist laws are consistently turned to the advantage of corporate and conservative interests that have mastered their use and abuse. To their credit, Lowery and other civil rights activists in Georgia are advancing legislation to limit so-called crossover voting. But their uphill battle will only succeed if they renew the grassroots political energy that put McKinney in Congress a decade ago but failed her reelection effort this year.

Interestingly, Barr claims that he was defeated in his Republican primary because Democrats crossed over to defeat him. In Barr's case, however, his defeat was predictable from the start. He was a victim of the most corrupt of all political games in America: Congressional redistricting. Every ten years, after the new Census figures are released, state politicians redraw Congressional district lines to gain partisan advantage. It is a process into which political players at the federal and state levels pour tens of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of hours of strategic plotting. And it is where political parties in both parties eliminate dissenting voices. That was the case with Barr, whose district was drawn out of existence. When he sought to follow a portion of his voters into a new district, Barr found himself out positioned on turf designed to favor a more mainstream conservative Republican, Representative John Linder. Even if Barr was the more dynamic contender, Linder ran with the implicit blessing of a party establishment that was frustrated by its inability to control an often renegade Republican. "Linder is an inside politician. Barr is an outside politician," explained Merle Black, the Emory University political scientist who is one of the wisest commentators on southern politics. And nothing does more to assure the victories of insiders over outsiders than redistricting schemes hatched behind closed doors by party insiders.

Combine redistricting with free-flowing campaigning money and political structures designed to be abused and you have a recipe for the triumph of the connected over the controversial.

In the Georgia primaries that defeated Barr and McKinney, Republican and Democratic insiders took full advantage of political structures and processes designed to favor their interests, and their ousted two of the House' few dissenters. In so doing, they made the Congress a little less representative of the real debates that are going on in the land, and continued the ugly "Americanization" of American politics.

Who's On PFIAB-A Bush Secret...Or Not? UPDATED

Who's on Piffiab? Anyone concerned with spying, clandestine actions, and the war on terrorism should care about the answer. But is the Bush Administration, in a break with the past, attempting to keep this important information secret? If so, the administration is doing a rather bad job.

The President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board--usually referred to by its acronym--is a group of prominent citizens who offer advice to the President on sensitive intelligence matters. It was established in 1956 by President Eisenhower, and past chairmen have included former Senator Warren Rudman, former House Speaker Thomas Foley, and former Defense Secretary Les Aspin. In recent years, PFIAB has conducted investigations (often through its Intelligence Oversight Board) of spy-community controversies. It examined lax security at Department of Energy nuclear weapons facilities, CIA involvement with Guatemalan military officials who committed human rights abuses, US intelligence failures in Somalia, and the CIA's cover-its-ass investigation of CIA director John Deutch, who compromised classified information. PFIAB challenged the charge--popular in rightwing circles--that China had stolen nuclear weapons secrets from the United States. ("Possible damage has been minted as probable disaster; workaday delay and bureaucratic confusion has been cast as diabolical conspiracies," a PFIAB report concluded. "Enough is enough.")

Last year, President George W. Bush selected Brent Scowcroft to lead PFIAB. Scowcroft, who was national security adviser to President Bush I, possessed appropriate credentials for the post. But the choice posed problems. Scowcroft, a onetime consultant for the oil industry, a board member of Qualcomm, and a past director of Global and Power Pipelines (an Enron subsidiary involved in projects in China, Guatemala, the Philippines, Argentina and Colombia), runs his own business, the Scowcroft Group, which sells intelligence and other services to globe-trotting corporations in the telecom, aerospace, insurance, energy, financial, electronics and food industries. As head of PFIAB, Scowcroft has access to secret information that could be valuable to his clients and his own business endeavors. Can the public be certain that Scowcroft's business links do not unduly influence his actions as PFIAB chairman or that he does not exploit his PFIAB position to help his clients and his own company? And his close personal relationship to the Bush family could undermine his ability to appear as an independent reviewer of intelligence activities mounted by the Bush administration. Scowcroft, though, recently proved he could take issue with the President by questioning the need to go to war against Iraq.

But Scowcroft does share a dominant trait of the Bush crowd: secrecy. On August 13, I called the PFIAB office and asked for a list of current board members. "That information is provided only on a need-to-know basis," said Roosevelt Roy, PFIAB's administrative assistant. And he meant, of course, that a reporter had no need to know.

I was surprised. As far as I could recall, PFIAB membership has always been public information. In fact, the Clinton Administration posted the names of the members on a PFIAB web page. (Clinton board members included Zoe Baird, the failed attorney general nominee; Sidney Drell, a renowned scientist; Ann Caracristis, former deputy director of the National Security Agency; Robert J. Hermann, a United Technologies executive; and Maurice Sonnenberg, an international businessman.) The Bush White House web page for PFIAB notes the board now has sixteen members and reveals nothing about the identities of any except Scowcroft.

Who determined this information should be secret? I asked Roy. "The chairman has made this need-to-know," he replied. "But it won't be permanent." When should I call back? Within six months, he said.

I took Roy at his word, and I contacted secrecy-in-government experts who expressed their outrage. I called Scowcroft's office and was told he was unavailable. I did a computer search and found that one member's appointment--that of former California Governor Pete Wilson--had been routinely reported by the San Diego Union-Tribune. I checked back with Roy at PFIAB, and he said that, in response to my original request for information, PFIAB might in the near-future consider releasing the identities of the board members. But, he added, "I can't make that final call." I wrote up a story and posted it. (You can read it by clicking on the link below.)

Now here comes the mystery (or joke): after the article hit the website, someone forwarded to me a White House press release, dated October 5, 2001, announcing Bush's intention to appoint fifteen individuals to PFIAB. They were Scowcroft; Pete Wilson; Cresencio Arcos, an AT&T executive and former US ambassador; Jim Barksdale, former head of Netscape; Robert Addison Day, chairman of the TWC Group, a money management firm; Stephen Friedman, past chairman of Goldman Sachs; Alfred Lerner, chief executive of MBNA; Ray Lee Hunt, scion of the Texas oil fortune; Rita Hauser, a prominent lawyer and longtime advocate of Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation; David Jeremiah, a retired admiral; Arnold Kanter, a Bush I national security official and a founding member of the Scowcroft Group; James Calhoun Langdon, Jr., a power-lawyer in Texas; Elisabeth Pate-Cornell, head of industrial engineering and engineering management at Stanford University; John Harrison Streicker, a real estate magnate; and Philip Zelikow, a National Security Council staffer during Bush I. (Two members of this group--Day and Langdon--were Bush campaign "pioneers," meaning they collected at least $100,000 for W.'s presidential bid. Barksdale raised money for Bush in Silicon Valley. Lerner's MBNA was the single biggest source of contributions for Bush in 2000, and he and his wife each donated $250,000 to the GOP. Hunt, too, rounded up bucks for Bush. Friedman gave $50,000 to the Republican Party in 2000. Streicher is a Democratic contributor.)

So why the secrecy now? Has something changed in the membership of PFIAB? Or is Scowcroft trying to cloak information already released by the White House? If that is the case, this episode suggests PFIAB still has much to learn about operational security.

Scowcroft should confirm whether the individuals named in the White House press release are indeed serving as board members. PFIAB is little-known, but important. After 9/11, the performance and the practices of US intelligence agencies have drawn more attention, and PFIAB can play a key role in overseeing the intelligence bureaucracies. The question remains for Scowcroft: does the public have a need to know who is watching the spies?

NOW FOR AN UPDATE:

Two days after this story appeared, Randy Deitering, the executive director of PFIAB called me. "I owe you an apology," he said. "You got some bad information." He explained that Roosevelt Roy had "grossly misspoken" when he said the membership list was provided only on a need-to-know basis. Deitering acknowledged it is public information. He confirmed that the current roster is the same as the list released by the White House press office last October. He said that when Roy and the rest of the PFIAB staff receive an information request, they are under instructions to "run it by me" before faxing out the material. "I think it's prudent to know who we're faxing to....It had nothing to do with the chairman."

I pointed out that under Clinton, PFIAB had placed the names and descriptions of board members on PFIAB's web pages, yet the board no longer did so. "There was some concern in October, November and December about how much we want to release about the members," Deitering commented. "We've never been through an attack like that before." But he said he would consider such a posting. Next, PFIAB can consider declassifying its historical records, right? I responded. (The board has steadfastly refused to make its documents available for declassification, claiming that could cause board members to feel reluctant about providing unvarnished advice to the President.) With a laugh, Deitering said, "Now that's not what we're going to do."

Who's On PFIAB?--A New Bush Secret

Who's on Piffiab? It's a question anyone concerned with spying, clandestine actions, and the war on terrorism should be asking. But the Bush Administration, in a break with the past, is keeping this important information secret.

The President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board--usually referred to by its acronym--is a group of prominent citizens who offer advice to the President on sensitive intelligence matters. It was established in 1956 by President Eisenhower, and past chairmen have included former Senator Warren Rudman, former House Speaker Thomas Foley, and former Defense Secretary Les Aspin. In recent years, PFIAB has conducted investigations (often through its Intelligence Oversight Board) of spy-community controversies. It examined lax security at Department of Energy nuclear weapons facilities, CIA involvement with Guatemalan military officials who committed human rights abuses, US intelligence failures in Somalia, and the CIA's cover-its-ass investigation of CIA director John Deutch, who compromised classified information. PFIAB challenged the charge--popular in rightwing circles--that China had stolen nuclear weapons secrets from the United States. ("Possible damage has been minted as probable disaster; workaday delay and bureaucratic confusion has been cast as diabolical conspiracies," a PFIAB report concluded. "Enough is enough.")

Last year--prior to September 11--President George W. Bush selected Brent Scowcroft to lead PFIAB. Scowcroft, who was national security adviser to President Bush I, possessed appropriate credentials for the post. But the choice posed problems. Scowcroft, a onetime consultant for the oil industry, a board member of Qualcomm, and a past director of Global and Power Pipelines (an Enron subsidiary involved in projects in China, Guatemala, the Philippines, Argentina and Colombia), runs his own business, the Scowcroft Group, which sells intelligence and other services to globe-trotting corporations in the telecom, aerospace, insurance, energy, financial, electronics and food industries. As head of PFIAB, Scowcroft has access to secret information that could be useful to his clients and his own business endeavors. Can the public be certain that Scowcroft's business links do not unduly influence his actions as PFIAB chairman or that he does not exploit his PFIAB position to help his clients and his own company? And his close personal relationship to the Bush family could undermine his ability to appear as an independent reviewer of intelligence activities mounted by the Bush administration. Scowcroft, though, recently proved he could take issue with the President by questioning the need to go to war against Iraq.

But Scowcroft does share a dominant trait of the Bush crowd: secrecy. On August 13, I called the PFIAB office and asked for a list of current board members. "That information is provided only on a need-to-know basis," said Roosevelt Roy, PFIAB's administrative assistant.

I was surprised. As far as I could recall, PFIAB membership has always been public information. In fact, the Clinton Administration posted the names of the members on a PFIAB web page. (Clinton board members included Zoe Baird, the failed attorney general nominee; Sidney Drell, a renowned scientist; Ann Caracristis, former deputy director of the National Security Agency; Robert J. Hermann, a United Technologies executive; and Maurice Sonnenberg, an international businessman.) The Bush White House web page for PFIAB notes the board now has sixteen members and reveals nothing about the identities of any except Scowcroft.

Who determined this information should be secret? I asked Roy. "The chairman has made this a need-to-know," he replied. "But it won't be permanent." When should I call back? Within six months, he said.

"This is utterly preposterous and insulting to the American public," says Steven Aftergood, director of the project on government secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists. "There is no national security justification. It's bureaucratic pettiness. This is not an intelligence agency. These people do not collect intelligence. They are not under cover. To my knowledge, the members have never been secret."

Loch Johnson, a former congressional staffer who investigated the intelligence community and now a professor at University of Georgia's School of Public and International Affairs, remarks, "I've never heard of the names of PFIAB members being secret. How absurd! A perfect illustration of how this administration has gone secrecy mad."

Does Scowcroft believe PFIAB members, who serve without pay, might be targeted by terrorists? Or reporters? Is he trying to prevent public scrutiny of the board's composition? Scowcroft's office said he was unavailable for comment. But if the PFIAB roster is indeed sensitive, the White House has left at least one of the members out in the cold. Last October, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported routinely that Bush had named former California Governor Pete Wilson to the board.

PFIAB is little-known but important. After 9/11, the performance and the practices of US intelligence agencies have drawn more attention. The question for Scowcroft: does the public have a need to know who is watching the intelligence community?

On August 14, I again contacted the PFIAB office at the White House, and Roy said that, in response to my original request for information, PFIAB might consider releasing the identities of the board members. But, he said, "I can't make that final call." Was he spinning or did he have an indication that Scowcroft is going to yield? If Scowcroft's PFIAB does spill the names, I'll post them here.

Fast Track Votes Show Where Democrats Really Stand

In barely 18 months, the identity of the Democratic challenger to President George W. Bush's 2004 re-election will have been determined. Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe's front-loading of the nominating process all but assures that the fight will be over before activists within the party and on its fringes have a chance to consider the candidates.

Thus, Americans who believe that the Democratic Party ought to offer a choice rather than an echo of the Bush administration's voodoo economics are already beginning to examine their options. Fortunately, the recent congressional votes on granting the Bush administration "fast track" authority to enter into secret negotiations toward the development of a sweeping Free Trade Area of the Americas offer a good place to begin the analysis.

This summer's fast track votes in the House and Senate presented congressional Democrats - a staggering number of whom are pondering presidential candidacies - with some stark choices. They could side with the Bush administration, multinational business interests and the Washington "think tanks" that are willing to go to war to defend American democracy and values - unless, of course, that democracy and those values pose a hindrance to nation-hopping corporations. Or they could side with the trade unions, environmental groups, farm organizations, consumer groups, churches and international human rights campaigners that represent the activist base not just of the Democratic Party but of the nation as a whole.

In the House, where fast track passed by an agonizingly narrow 215-212 margin, Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., did not merely oppose fast track, he helped coordinate the opposition. Of the 212 votes against fast track, 183 came from the Democratic caucus.

Two other House members who are considering Democratic presidential runs, Dennis Kucinich and Marcy Kaptur, both of Ohio, were in the forefront of opposition to the legislation.

Kucinich, the Congressional Progressive Caucus chairman who is perhaps best known among progressives around the country for his outspoken criticism of the Bush administration's military policies, combined hometown concern for factory workers in the Cleveland area with a sophisticated analysis of international human rights and development issues to offer some of the most thoughtful criticism of the corporate free trade agenda. (Kucinich's "Action Center" on his congressional home page at www.house.gov/kucinich/action/trade.htm explains fast track and related issues and provides links to Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, Friends of the Earth, the Economic Policy Institute and unions that have battled the corporate agenda on trade policy.)

Kaptur delivered the best speech during the House's fast track debate. An expert on trade policy who has battled the corporate agenda for two decades, Kaptur spoke with the confidence of someone who knew that what the Bush administration was asking for was wrong. Yes, of course, she said, passing fast track would begin a process that would cost Americans jobs and farms. But the damage to the developing world would be worse, she explained, describing a future for the poorest of the poor that would be defined by "corporate slums and global plantations with penny-wage jobs."

What of the Senate, where fast track won a 64-34 endorsement? Though that chamber is thick with Democratic presidential timber, few of Bush's prospective challengers stood tall. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota conspired with corporate Democrat Max Baucus of Montana to spring a surprise vote on the eve of Congress' summer break. Daschle whipped Democrats to back the Bush agenda on trade, voted for fast track and then joined in a grotesque celebration of the victory with Baucus.

Connecticut's Joe Lieberman, the party's 2000 vice presidential nominee, was an outspoken supporter of the legislation. Joining Lieberman and Daschle in backing fast track was Massachusetts' John Kerry. Delaware's Joe Biden voted against fast track, but cast procedural votes that aided Daschle's push for the legislation.

Indeed, of Senate Democrats who have been mentioned as potential presidential contenders, only three stood consistently in opposition to the Bush trade agenda: Wisconsin's Russ Feingold, the Senate's most thoughtful foe of the corporate free-trade agenda; Connecticut's Chris Dodd, a friend of labor with a long interest in human rights issues, North Carolina's John Edwards, whose homestate faces the threat of significant job losses in the textile industry; and, to the surprise of many who recall her role in a previous administration that fought for fast track, New York's Hillary Clinton.

As for the man who fancies himself the front-runner for the 2004 nomination: On the Sunday after the Senate vote, Al Gore wrote a New York Times op-ed piece in which he condemned the Bush administration's failings and called for Democrats to stand tough against corporate power. Amazingly, however, Gore's article made no mention of fast track or the trade debate.