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The Nation

Premature Celebration

The President and his speechwriters have, these last years, fallen in love with "victory." Back in November, 2005, for instance, promoting his administration's "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq," Bush used the word "victory" 15 times in a single speech. Things in Iraq were already bad enough then. Now, of course, they are beyond disastrous and, in a small but telling piece on p. A28 of Wednesday's New York Times, Thom Shanker reports the following: "Tucked away in fine print in the military spending bill for this past year was a lump sum of $20 million to pay for a celebration in the nation's capital ‘for commemoration of success' in Iraq and Afghanistan." He adds, "Not surprisingly, the money was not spent." It was, in fact, rolled over to next year when… well, if the Republicans still control Congress, it will surely be rolled over to 2008, 2009, and 2010.

Victory in Iraq is not on many American minds right now in a country where, according to the latest CNN poll, 66% of us disapprove of the job the President is doing there. So it's not surprising that a little piece about marches in honor of "success" in his wars is tucked away in the paper, while an unexpected slaughter among the Amish and mayhem over charges over pedophilia cover-ups among Republicans, dominates front pages countrywide. But here's the strange thing: Right now, if victory is relegated to p. 28 (and next year's military budget), the pain of American loss has hardly been easier to see recently, unless, as Juan Cole pointed out at his Informed Comment blog, you're reading very local papers.

Since Saturday, at least 23 American soldiers have died in Iraq (mostly in Baghdad) and at least 2 in Afghanistan. A single day total of 8 was announced by the Pentagon for Monday and yet these numbers generally didn't make it near a front page. The Washington Post, whose Wednesday front page had a huge story on the murdered Amish girls, "Pa. Killer Had Prepared for ‘Long Siege,'" on page 1, dealt with American casualties in Iraq in a tiny Associated Press piece on page A21 ("11 U.S. Troops, 52 Iraqis Killed"). A story of rising American casualties around Baghdad only hit the paper's front page today. The New York Times, whose front page had a similar Amish story ("Elaborate Plan Seen by Police in School Siege") Wednesday, put its Iraq piece by Michael Luo ("8 G.I.'s Die in Baghdad, Most in a Day Since '05") on p. A12 -- with a tiny box about it on p. 1.

The news from Baghdad is even worse than you might imagine, but this week you had to be a news junkie to notice. The capital not only experienced the highest daily American casualties of the war, but "the highest number of car bombs and roadside bombs... this year." And here's the real twist: While American casualties are on the rise, Iraqi military casualties are actually falling! This undoubtedly reflects not better fighting skills on the part of the Iraqi Army, but an ever-lessening engagement with the insurgency in Baghdad where a militia-ridden, death-squad-linked national police brigade was also being pulled off the capital's streets and replaced by… well, what did you expect?... American troops.

The President has long said, "As Iraqis stand up, we will stand down." But what if they stand down? And Americans in their place simply die in increasing numbers.

Maybe the Vietnam-era advice of Vermont Senator George Aiken is still worth considering. What if we just declared "victory" and started to come home. Then that $20 million in parades might be a fine investment.

Hastert Under Mounting Pressure

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, has scheduled a press conference this morning in Chicago.

What will Hastert, who faces mounting pressure to quit over his mishandling of the scandal surrounding former Congressional Mark Foley, have to say?

Chances are, Hastert may not know.

In a Wednesday evening interview with the Chicago Tribune -- which followed the announcement by Foley's former chief of staff that he had warned Hastert's office more than two years ago about the Florida congressman's inappropriate behavior toward teenage pages – the Speaker said he was not going to quit. "Look, I've talked to our members," Hastert told the largest newspaper in his home state. "Our members are supportive. I think that (resignation) is exactly what our opponents would like to have happen -- that I'd fold my tent and others would fold our tent and they would sweep the House."

But it wasn't just Democrats who were telling Hastert to fold the tent.

Human Events, the influential conservative weekly newspaper, is reportedly set to editorialize today for Hastert's exit and the election of a new Speaker. ``We think the Republicans need new leaders, and I don't think Hastert will be there much longer,'' explained Human Events the editor-in-chief Tom Winter in an interview Wednesday. ``I think (Hastert) has to do this for the team, he has to step down.''

Another conservative publication, the Washington Times, called earlier in the week for Hastert's resignation.

But the real measure of Hastert's troubles may be coming from the ranks of his own caucus. Congressman Ron Lewis, a Kentucky Republican who is waging a tough reelection campaign, announced on Wednesday that he had cancelled a fundraiser that was to have featured Hastert.

Lewis is unlikely to be the only Republican in a close race to distance himself or herself from Hastert, who is under fire for failing to respond adequately when concerns were raised about sexually-explicit communications between Foley and congressional pages and who, since the scandal broke last week, has repeatedly been caught in lies about it.

As conservative columnist Robert Novak wrote late Wednesday, "a dysfunctional House leadership" – led by Hastert – is now a key factor threatening GOP control of the House. "The anger by rank-and-file Republican House members over the incompetence of their leaders is palpable," explained Novak.

All of this points to the prospect of a Hastert resignation. What argues against that prospect?

One big argument that key Republicans are making for keeping Hastert is the challenge of finding another leader who is not tarnished by the scandal. Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, is at least as closely tied to the scandal as Hastert, as are other top Republicans such as New York Congressman Tom Reynolds, the chair of the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee.

The former Foley aide who has come forward to challenge Hastert's version of events had served as chief of staff for Reynolds until the aide abruptly resigned Wednesday.

One suggestion that seems to be gaining traction is a proposal that Illinois Congressman Henry Hyde, a senior Republican who is not seeking reelection, might replace Hastert for the short term.

But many Republicans fear that even a shuffle of leadership that put the reasonably well-regarded Hyde in charge would not be enough to make the party's problems go away. Indeed, there is concern that a Hastert resignation would bring so much additional attention to the scandal that disenchantment among religious conservatives – essential supporters of the GOP in recent election cycles – would spread. No one thinks that fundamentalist voters will switch as a group to the Democrats in this fall's elections. Rather, the fear is a portion of the party's social-conservative base would simply fail to turn out on Election Day.

The Circle Fires

The fallout from Foleygate keeps increasing. Just when it looks like Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert might be shoring up his support among conservatives, another bombshell drops.

Just an hour ago the AP reported that former Foley chief of staff Kirk Fordham asked Hastert to intervene three years ago.

GOP aides had previously told ABC News that Fordham, who resigned today, prevented an inquiry into Foley. When Fordham read the report, he went public with what he knew.

"Rather than trying to shift the blame on me, those who are employed by these House leaders should acknowledge what they know about their action or inaction in response to the information they knew about Mr. Foley prior to 2005," Fordham told the AP.

After leaving Foley's office, Fordham went to work for National Republican Congressional Committee Tom Reynolds, who accepted $100,000 from Foley and himself is a central figure in the cover-up.

But Fordham's revelation puts the spotlight back on Hastert. His contradictory explanations thus far about why he didn't investigate Foley earlier have been woefully inadequate. Now sources on Capitol Hill say it may be a matter of hours before Hastert loses his job.

Stale Peanuts

All hands are on deck, and scrambling desperately, as the administration tries in vain to get its story straight regarding a July 10, 2001 meeting between then-National Security advisor Condoleeza Rice, then-CIA Director George Tenet, and his counterterrorism chief, J. Cofer Black.

It would be farcical if not for the incalculable consequences of their bungling and deceptions.

On Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that Bob Woodward's State of Denial describes a meeting where Tenet and Black warned Rice of an imminent al-Qaeda attack.

Rice's response to Woodward's report was to insist that she never received such a briefing.

But then the administration said that the meeting did in fact take place.

Still, Rice "strongly suggest[ed] that the meeting may never have occurred at all – even though administration officials had conceded for days that it had."

So a State Department spokesman then said that the meeting took place but that "there was nothing new" revealed. He added that Rice told Tenet to give the same briefing to both Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and then-Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Huh, come again? No new information but repeat the same briefing for Rumsfeld and Ashcroft? Would you mind explaining that, Mr. Spokesman?

"[The spokesman] was unable to explain why Rice felt the briefing should be repeated if it did not include new material," The Post reported.

What is catching up with this administration is not so much its "state of denial" as its state of disdain. Disdain for any position in contradiction to its own. Disdain for any facts that fly in the face of its own myths and suppositions. And, most of all, disdain for the American public. So it is no surprise that former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger (who arguably takes disdain to war crimes-proportions), has become one of President Bush's preferred and most frequent confidantes.

Kissinger has even exhumed his September 10, 1969 "salted peanuts" memo for the "benefit" of President Bush. In it, Kissinger advised President Nixon against significant troop withdrawals from Vietnam: "Withdrawal of U.S. troops will become like salted peanuts to the American public; the more U.S. troops come home, the more will be demanded." With opposition to the Iraq war solidifying, and the public aware that this war is based on lies and deception, Kissinger knows that if the administration flinches the floodgates will open.

And there you have it. To hell with the public, to hell with contradicting facts, to hell with the troops. Just stay the course. To this administration, the lives, the costs, the waste is nothing more than peanuts compared to its own ill-conceived, ill-fated designs.

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.