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November Surprise, the Sequel

Are we really surprised? The Saddam Hussein verdict, scheduled for October 16 and then suddenly delayed last month (supposedly because the Iraqi special tribunal needed more time) to November 5, the last news cycle before the US midterm election, has now come in and the former dictator (and monster) has been found guilty. The Bush administration, struggling desperately for face time in the media these last weeks, has one day of Iraqi front-page headlines and lead TV news stories of its dreams in an election season in which the Iraq War has more or less shoved every other issue off center stage.

The possibility that this particularly convenient verdict postponement might have been the result of Bush administration planning and pressure to create a November surprise for the midterm elections was first raised here at the Nation magazine's "The Notion" blog on October 17. Since then the mainstream American media has failed to explore the subject.

Just to review for a second: Saddam's trial, as the Washington Post's Ellen Knickmeyer reported last January, was a key priority of the Bush administration, which spent hundreds of millions of dollars exhuming evidence for it, refurbished the courtroom for it, trained judges for it, provided security for it, and even drafted many of the statutes under which Saddam was to be tried. The trial has been significantly stage-managed and run on a daily basis by the US Regime Crimes Liaison Office, working out of the US embassy in Baghdad.

As the Media Matters website has ably reported, the Bush administration (think: Karl Rove) has a penchant for and a "history of timing national security-related actions to the political calendar," thereby causing presidential approval ratings to providentially bump up at just the right moments; and White House Press Spokesman Tony Snow, when asked last week by CNBC's Larry Kudlow whether the verdict would be a "November surprise," even welcomed the question, as well as the prospective verdict, this way:

"[Y]ou are absolutely right, it will be a factor. But you know what, it may fit into a larger narrative about an Iraqi government that has been doing what the president has said all along which is developing the capacity to sustain itself, defend itself and govern itself and to help us out on the war on terror."

You would think that all this might have inspired the odd editor at the odd major (or even minor) newspaper to assign a story, however speculative, on the possibility of a Bush-manipulated Saddam-execution special, or that a major columnist somewhere might have commented, or that the odd reporter might have called someone other than the usual suspects. But no such luck, it seems.

Instead, where reporters did anything on the subject, they took the charge of possibly tampering with the verdict date for political advantage on the "home front" directly to administration figures -- last week, Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad (""The United States had nothing to do with the selection of the date and we don't know whether the judges have come to a judgment or not."); this Sunday, Tony Snow ("absolutely crazy"; "‘The idea is preposterous,' he said in an interview on CNN's ‘Late Edition,' that ‘somehow we've been scheming and plotting with the Iraqis.'") -- who naturally denied that it was faintly conceivable. In fact, in such articles, all you could read were denials of the charge. There was never a sense that the charge came from anywhere.

In the meantime, the idea was mocked on CNN; while NBC's Tim Russert fluffed it off, based on administration denials, evidently without (like every other reporter around) even bothering to explore the all too plausible possibility, or calling anyone on Earth who might have another opinion. How about, for instance, the articulate and knowledgeable human rights lawyer Scott Horton, whose private e-newsletter, "No Comment," first tipped off "The Notion" to the providential postponement? (Leading Democrats, of course, just ducked as always.) For our "balanced" press, this was little short of dereliction of duty.

When the tampering possibility slipped into stories at all, it was as a formulaic paragraph or two deep inside pieces deep inside the paper. Typical was this from the Post's usually able reporter Knickmeyer (who knows too much about the nature of Saddam's trial to have covered this issue so poorly):

"In Baghdad, US officials close to the trial deny that the announcement of the verdict, set for two days before US congressional elections, was timed to give a boost to the Republican Party. ‘If we had that kind of power to set dates like that, the trial would have been concluded in about five months,' said one of the officials, who all spoke on condition they not be identified further. ‘The fact of the matter is: No way.'"

So here we are, just a news cycle before election day, and both George W. Bush ("a milestone in the Iraqi people's efforts to replace the rule of a tyrant with the rule of law") and Ambassador Khalilzad ("an important milestone in the building of a free society") are once again able to use one of those classic administration Iraq words -- "milestone" (think Saddam's capture, the purple finger election) -- that otherwise had disappeared from our news. This won't last more than a day or two, of course, before the Iraqi bad news begins to pour in again; but right now those few crucial hours are manna from heaven for an administration whose vice president has already declared that it will be "full speed ahead" in Iraq after the midterm elections, no matter what.

I have little doubt that, weeks, months, or years from now, we'll learn just who carried off this particular administration political ploy--and just how. In the meantime, this is but another small, pathetic tale of how the mainstream media has failed its readers and viewers, blindly and blandly spreading yet another administration fiction about the increasingly fictional land of, and "government" of, Iraq.

Look for a blunt account of this fiasco in the normal outlets. You'll do so in vain. If you're curious, take a look instead at what Riverbend, the "girl blogger of Baghdad," has to say today about the verdict, about what it's like--in an Iraq "at its very worst since the invasion"--to experience firsthand "the frustration of feeling like the whole country and every single Iraqi inside and outside of Iraq is at the mercy of American politics." So are we, unfortunately; and, on this election eve, you can offer some part of the thanks for that to the major paper or TV network of your choice.

Early Obituary

Call me traditional, but I think it is still a little early to write a death notice for Republican prospects in Tuesday's elections. The polls and trends favor the Democrats, but surveys of many of the key races find candidates of both parties stuck within margins of error. So it seems to me that a measure of caution is appropriate before nailing shut the GOP's coffin.

Not so the editors of National Review Online, the usually savvy website of the conservative National Review magazine. Their featured article this afternoon is teased with a photo of former President Ronald Reagan and the supposedly soothing reminder that: "He Took Losses Too."

The article, by reliably Republican columnist Charles Krauthammer, anticipates significant Republican losses -- with the House going Democratic and possibly the Senate -- but tells Grand Old Partiers not to take it too hard.

"In his sixth year, the now-sainted Ronald Reagan lost eight Senate seats that gave the chamber back to Democratic control," chirps Krauthammer. "That election was swayed by no wars, no weekly casualty figures, no major scandals. The first inkling of the Iran-Contra scandal broke on the morning after the election."

So, you see, Republican losses this year were inevitable.

If only Krauthammer could have gotten the message to the Republican National Committee and the party's House and Senate campaign committees, not to mention GOP candidates around the country. They could have saved a fortune by simply accepting their destiny.

Instead, they have fought the 2OO6 campaign to win, and predicted all along that they would do just that. Even now, with the voting just hours away, Republican operatives are all over the airwaves talking about a GOP "surge" coming -- and in some battleground states, such as Tennessee and Rhode Island, they could be right.

The National Review's ready-for-the-worst commentary may well offer the best confirmation that the obituary writers should be sharpening their pencils. But those who would bury the Republicans would be well advised to avoid taking any notes from Mr. Krauthammer, whose primary purpose appears to be to suggest that no one should be surprised or impressed by Democratic advances.

In fact, the history of this year's campaign points to an entirely different assessment. After blowing every previous opportunity to hold the Bush White House to account, and after mounting a predictably tepid campaign, the Democrats went into the fall campaign as nothing more than cautiously-hopeful contenders, while the Republicans went in with pretty much the same bravado they displayed in 2OO2 and 2OO4. The story of this campaign has been written this fall -- with the mishandling of the Mark Foley scandal by the Republican leadership, the collapse of home values, the record casualty figures from Iraq and the willingness of a growing number of Democratic challengers to scrap their party's playbooks and run genuinely aggressive campaigns -- and it is unique to this year.

How it plays out has yet to be seen, although the willingness of the National Review's editors to slap an "RIP" tag on the Republicans offers one more indication that an opera singer may be clearing her pipes.

The Pombo Ugly Last Campaign of Laura Bush

PLEASANTON, CA. -- Pity Laura Lane Welch Bush. A solid Democrat who placed her ideological values in a blind trust when she married into the Republican royal family, she now has been forced by the collapse of her husband's political fortunes into the most sordid of circumstances. The bookish Bush, who has devoted her tenure as First Lady to the gentle pursuits of promoting literacy and trying to smooth the jagged edges of her beau's administration, has now been put to the task of retaining Republican control of the House of Representatives. As the sole person closely associated with the Bush presidency who is still approved by a majority of Americans, she alone can be dispatched to states like California by the most political White House in American history. She alone can try to execute the most serious electoral repair job a presidential administration has had to engage in since newly-minted President Gerald Ford ventured onto the campaign trail in the Watergate year of 1974.

These cannot be happy days for the First Lady, who spent the day before her 60th birthday on Saturday in the political purgatory that had to make her wonder about the compromises she has made in her life.

If the First Lady's campaigning merely required her to attend literary lunches with the more genteel members of the Grand Old Party's congressional caucus -- Iowa's Jim Leach, Wisconsin's Tom Petri and the like -- the First Lady could swallow hard and comfort herself with the thought that after Tuesday she will never again have to pretend to like Republicans.

But the genteel Republicans aren't the ones who are in deep trouble this year. It's the thugs who are being dragged down by frustration with the failure of Congress to check and balance the Bush administration's war making, by the revelations of the pay-to-play politics of disgraced House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff and their minions, and by their own particularly wretched records.

Watching Laura Bush go through the motions of supporting some of the most disreputable political bagmen of the age has been this election year's least attractive experience, and on Friday things turned downright ugly -- Pombo ugly.

In this northern California suburb, the First Lady gripped a podium and squeezing out a pained smile as she discussed the dubious merits of seven-term U.S. Rep. Richard Pombo, a Republican congressman who is so wrong on the issues and so ethically-compromised that, even in a district tailor-made to reelect Republicans, he is having trouble closing the deal. If Pombo loses, it will be exceptionally bad news for the Grand Old Party, as his defeat would signal that even the hard work of the partisan map drawers who have corrupted the redistricting process to assure the reelection of even the most malignant incumbents has been swept away by a wave of anger over Republican misrule and misdeeds.

Pombo is the face of what's wrong with the current Congress. A faux cowboy who tries to hide the fact that he has "gone Washington" by wearing a new ten-gallon hat and shiny boots whenever he returns to an increasingly suburban district that is still home to many farmers and ranchers, Pombo is the House's most militant opponent of environmental protection. He chairs the House Resources Committee, and his campaign to gut the Endangered Species Act has allowed him to collect a great deal of money from corporate polluters, developers and others who would make billions if Congress would just let them kill off a few more rare species.

Pombo has in recent years associated himself so closely with scandal-plagued lobbyists and cast so many indefensible votes that he finally faced a difficult Republican primary this year -- when retired U.S. Rep. Pete McCloskey, angered over Pombo's attempts to dismantle conservation laws that McCloskey had helped pass decades earlier -- came out of retirement to make the run. McCloskey lost the June primary, but he exposed the vulnerabilities that have allowed Democrat Jerry McNerney to mount a fall challenge that pollsters now say threatens Pombo -- despite the fact that registered Republicans outnumber Democrats 46-39 in the 11th Congressional District that includes portions of California's Contra Costa, Santa Clara and San Joaquin counties.

It was Laura Bush's job -- as the only prominent member of the Bush administration who is welcome in California this year -- to try and stop the bleeding from the base. So she came to Pleasanton to try and lure traditional Republican voters back in the fold. To do so, she had to praise Pombo as a good man and a great congressman -- statements that the First Lady is smart enough to recognize as, well, lies.

The poor woman actually claimed with a straight face that, "U.S. Rep. Pombo is an enthusiastic steward of our country's natural resources. Because of his leadership, wildlife, property and people will be protected from dangerous flooding." As lies go, that's a pretty big one, since Pombo, a supporter of selling public lands to mining interests and a passionate advocate for opening up federal wildlife reserves for oil drilling is running for reelection with the support of oil, gas and timber companies and with the opposition of every major environmental, conservation and wildlife protection group in the country.

But the biggest lie was the suggestion didn't involve Pombo personally. Rather, it was the suggestion that Mrs. Bush -- a woman who has quietly but firmly distanced herself from the GOP's social agenda and whose oft-stated sympathies for public education and public libraries put her very much at odds with the policies and spending priorities of men like Richard Pombo -- really thinks America would be better off with a Republican Congress.

It is a nasty spot that Laura Bush finds herself in during the last days of a rescue-mission campaign to save the political hides of some of the saddest excuses this country has ever seen for legislators. But when you marry into royalty, as Prince Diana and so many others have warned us over the years, you must surrender a big part of yourself. For her part, Laura Bush has chosen this week to give up her ideals, her conscience and her hard-won reputation as the last decent occupant of the Bush White House.

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

The Death of the "Values Voter"

Since the New Jersey Supreme Court issued its ruling on same-sex unions, Bush and the religious right have amped up their gay-baiting rhetoric in a last ditch effort to turn out so-called values voters. On the stump in Missouri and Montana -- where polls show Democrats Claire McCaskill and Jon Tester in dead heats with their GOP opponents -- Bush once again raised the specter of "activist judges." Of course, the Haggard scandal threatens to puncture these desperate measures, but even before Pastor Ted's sex, drugs and voicemail indiscretions surfaced, all signs indicated that anti-gay marriage measures have failed to motivate vaunted values voters.

I've been speaking with organizers in the eight states (WI, CO, AZ, SD, VA, TN, SC, ID) where defense of marriage amendments are on the ballot. You'll find a partial report below. I'll update this post with more state dispatches, so check back again.

A few broad patterns have become clear. First, the New Jersey decision has had little impact on state campaigns; the right-wing has ticked up its rhetoric, but there's no discernible shift in polls or mood at the state level. Second, marriage amendments will have little impact on top of the ticket races, which have been focused on either the Iraq War or locally hot issues like immigration (AZ) or abortion (SD). Third, even GOP candidates and right-wing activists have shied away from emphasizing their support of marriage amendments; it's in their arsenal but not their best weapon. Finally, 2006 may be a watershed year. A set of smart, scrappy, grassroots campaigns are poised to make history, becoming the first to defeat anti-gay marriage amendments at the voting booth.

Raising Arizona

On election day Arizonans will vote on Prop. 107, the "Protect Marriage Arizona Amendment." Modeled after far-reaching bans like Ohio's, Prop. 107 would not only define marriage as a "union between one man and one woman," but also bar the state from recognizing any status that is "similar to that of marriage" (civil unions, domestic partnerships and reciprocal beneficiaries). For over a year polls have consistently predicted that Prop. 107 would fail, and although numbers have tightened -- the most recent polls still tip against the amendment but fall within the margin of error -- No on 107 campaign chair Cindy Jordan is optimistic that Arizona will reject the amendment.

This result -- should it occur -- wasn't necessarily preordained. Republicans have dominated state politics since 1950. And while the Grand Canyon state can turn out streaky conservatives like Goldwater, McCain, Kyl and retiring, gay Congressman Jim Kolbe, it's also home to a robust and organized Christian right who've propped up candidates like Congressional nominee Randy Graf and Republican gubernatorial candidate Len Munsil.

Graf and Munsil are bona fide social conservatives. Pro-life, anti-gay and pro-gun, Graf challenged Kolbe from the right in the 2004 primary, and this year he defeated a more moderate Republican by tarring him as a RINO (Republican In Name Only). Notably, Kolbe has refused to endorse Graf in the general election where he lags behind Gabby Giffords, who's expected to pick-up the seat for Democrats. Likewise, Munsil is the founder of the Center for Arizona Policy (CAP), a family policy council affiliated with Dobson's Focus on the Family, which has been spearheading the campaign for Prop. 107.

However, according to both Jordan and Wingspan's (Tucson's LGBT Center) executive director Kent Burbank, Prop. 107 hasn't played a big role in Arizona's key elections. In part, that's because both Giffords and incumbent Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano (as well as GOP Senator Jon Kyl) enjoy substantial leads in their respective races. But more significantly, the key issues in Arizona are the war and immigration. As Jordan put it to me, "every single Republican candidate here has emphasized immigration. It's their number one issue and the only thing that's working for them." Indeed, sharing the ballot with Prop. 107 this year are a raft of anti-immigrant measures that are expected to pass by wide margins. Munsil's latest campaign propaganda brazenly attempts to connect anxiety over 9/11 with anti-immigrant sentiment. Over an image of a plane flying into a smoking World Trade Center, Munsil's mailing says, "The terrorists who flew this plane carried U.S. driver's licenses."

Credit is also due, of course, to the anti-Prop. 107 forces. It hasn't always been an easy road. Earlier this fall, the campaign to defeat Prop. 107 split into two factions, which share some messages and resources, but also diverge strategically and geographically. In the wealthier, more conservative and Phoenix-centered north, Arizona Together runs TV ads that stress the harm Prop. 107 would do to heterosexual, unmarried households. This decision has rankled some gay activists who note that same-sex couples are virtually invisible in all of Arizona Together's campaign materials. Indeed, Arizona Together's chair, Kyrsten Sinema, was quoted in local newspapers saying, "If this was about same-sex marriage, I would not be on this campaign. I would pass and go home."

In southern Arizona, home of more liberal Tucson, a parallel group called No on 107 emphasizes both gay and straight relationships. According to Burbank, "Tucson has done a good job of walking the middle road. We deal with issues of marriage equality and also realize that Prop. 107's hate-filled message goes much further than marriage rights and restricts benefits for a lot of people." No on 107 has also eschewed expensive TV buys. Raising over $60,000 from small, grassroots donations, they've run radio ads on 14 different stations in southern Arizona, including Spanish-language spots. No on 107 chair Cindy Jordan says, "The response to the radio has been incredible. It truly has had an affect. Also, it helped the community here in Tucson. We asked them for money and we spent it exactly how we said we would. I think that is an important part of running a grassroots campaign."

A Referendum on Rumsfeld

George Bush brought it upon himself.

He could have seen out the 2006 campaign season without discussing the fact that no one – with the exception of some joker who rode out the Vietnam conflict defending Texas – thinks Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is doing a good job. Or, better yet, he could have acknowledged that there may be some, er, problems with Rumsfeld's approach to the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and just about every other responsibility with which he has been entrusted.

But, no, the president chose the final week of the most critical mid-term election campaign of any president in recent history to declare that he would stand by his Rummy.

Asked about Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney, Bush said that "both men are doing fantastic jobs."

He then hailed Rumsfeld's oversite of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. "I'm pleased with the progress we're making," the president said of Rumsfeld's work, before announcing that he wanted the defense secretary to remain on the job until the end of Bush's second term in January of 2009.

It was Bush who made this coming Tuesday's national vote into a referendum on Rumsfeld. And, when referendum elections are held, newspapers make endorsements.

To the question of whether the defense secretary should keep his job, the four newspapers that cover the branches of the U.S. military are answering: "No!"

The Army Times, Navy Times, Air Force Times and Marine Corps Times newspapers, independent publications that are broadly distributed in the commissaries of military bases around the world, will on Monday jointly publish an editorial headlined: "Time for Rumsfeld to go."

The editorial begins with a quote from Pulitzer Prize-winning war correspondent Marguerite Higgins during the Korean War: "So long as our government requires the backing of an aroused and informed public opinion ... it is necessary to tell the hard bruising truth."

Then it goes on to bemoan the fact that, "until recently, the ‘hard bruising' truth about the Iraq war has been difficult to come by from leaders in Washington."

Then the editors let loose:

One rosy reassurance after another has been handed down by President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld: "mission accomplished," the insurgency is "in its last throes," and "back off," we know what we're doing, are a few choice examples.

Military leaders generally toed the line, although a few retired generals eventually spoke out from the safety of the sidelines, inciting criticism equally from anti-war types, who thought they should have spoken out while still in uniform, and pro-war foes, who thought the generals should have kept their critiques behind closed doors.

Now, however, a new chorus of criticism is beginning to resonate. Active-duty military leaders are starting to voice misgivings about the war's planning, execution and dimming prospects for success.

Army Gen. John Abizaid, chief of U.S. Central Command, told a Senate Armed Services Committee in September: "I believe that the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I've seen it ... and that if not stopped, it is possible that Iraq could move towards civil war."

Last week, someone leaked to The New York Times a Central Command briefing slide showing an assessment that the civil conflict in Iraq now borders on "critical" and has been sliding toward "chaos" for most of the past year. The strategy in Iraq has been to train an Iraqi army and police force that could gradually take over for U.S. troops in providing for the security of their new government and their nation.

But despite the best efforts of American trainers, the problem of molding a viciously sectarian population into anything resembling a force for national unity has become a losing proposition.

For two years, American sergeants, captains and majors training the Iraqis have told their bosses that Iraqi troops have no sense of national identity, are only in it for the money, don't show up for duty and cannot sustain themselves.

Meanwhile, colonels and generals have asked their bosses for more troops. Service chiefs have asked for more money.

And all along, Rumsfeld has assured us that things are well in hand.

Now, the president says he'll stick with Rumsfeld for the balance of his term in the White House.

This is a mistake. It is one thing for the majority of Americans to think Rumsfeld has failed. But when the nation's current military leaders start to break publicly with their defense secretary, then it is clear that he is losing control of the institution he ostensibly leads.

These officers have been loyal public promoters of a war policy many privately feared would fail. They have kept their counsel private, adhering to more than two centuries of American tradition of subordination of the military to civilian authority.

And although that tradition, and the officers' deep sense of honor, prevent them from saying this publicly, more and more of them believe it.

Rumsfeld has lost credibility with the uniformed leadership, with the troops, with Congress and with the public at large. His strategy has failed, and his ability to lead is compromised. And although the blame for our failures in Iraq rests with the secretary, it will be the troops who bear its brunt.

This is not about the midterm elections. Regardless of which party wins Nov. 7, the time has come, Mr. President, to face the hard bruising truth:

Donald Rumsfeld must go.

The editors of the Army Times, Navy Times, Air Force Times and Marine Corps Times newspapers are right: "This is not about the mid-term elections." No matter which party wins, the problem of the administration's approach to the Iraq War in general and to Rumsfeld in particular must be addressed.

But the mid-term elections will decide how seriously and how quickly that problem is addressed. And an editorial like this one, published on the day before national elections, cannot be read as anything but a clarion call to the American people to vote "no" in what the president has made a referendum on retaining Rumsfeld.

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

A Referendum on Rumsfeld

George Bush brought it upon himself.

He could have seen out the 2006 campaign season without discussing the fact that no one – with the exception of some joker who road out the Vietnam conflict defending Texas – thinks Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is doing a good job. Or, better yet, he could have acknowledged that there may be some, er, problems with Rumsfeld's approach to the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and just about every other responsibility with which he has been entrusted.

But, no, the president chose the final week of the most critical mid-term election campaign of any president in recent history to declare that he would stand by his Rummy.

Asked about Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney, Bush said that "both men are doing fantastic jobs."

He then hailed Rumsfeld's oversite of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. "I'm pleased with the progress we're making," the president said of Rumsfeld's work, before announcing that he wanted the defense secretary to remain on the job until the end of Bush's second term in January of 2009.

It was Bush who made this coming Tuesday's national vote into a referendum on Rumsfeld. And, when referendum elections are held, newspapers make endorsements.

To the question of whether the defense secretary should keep his job, the four newspapers that cover the branches of the U.S. military are answering: "No!"

The Army Times, Navy Times, Air Force Times and Marine Corps Times, independent publications that are broadly distributed in the commissaries of military bases around the world, will on Monday jointly publish an editorial headlined: "Time for Rumsfeld to go."

The editorial begins with a quote from Pulitzer Prize-winning war correspondent Marguerite Higgins during the Korean War: "So long as our government requires the backing of an aroused and informed public opinion ... it is necessary to tell the hard bruising truth."

Then it goes on to bemoan the fact that, "until recently, the ‘hard bruising' truth about the Iraq war has been difficult to come by from leaders in Washington."

Then the editors let loose:

One rosy reassurance after another has been handed down by President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld: "mission accomplished," the insurgency is "in its last throes," and "back off," we know what we're doing, are a few choice examples.

Military leaders generally toed the line, although a few retired generals eventually spoke out from the safety of the sidelines, inciting criticism equally from anti-war types, who thought they should have spoken out while still in uniform, and pro-war foes, who thought the generals should have kept their critiques behind closed doors.

Now, however, a new chorus of criticism is beginning to resonate. Active-duty military leaders are starting to voice misgivings about the war's planning, execution and dimming prospects for success.

Army Gen. John Abizaid, chief of U.S. Central Command, told a Senate Armed Services Committee in September: "I believe that the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I've seen it ... and that if not stopped, it is possible that Iraq could move towards civil war."

Last week, someone leaked to The New York Times a Central Command briefing slide showing an assessment that the civil conflict in Iraq now borders on "critical" and has been sliding toward "chaos" for most of the past year. The strategy in Iraq has been to train an Iraqi army and police force that could gradually take over for U.S. troops in providing for the security of their new government and their nation.

But despite the best efforts of American trainers, the problem of molding a viciously sectarian population into anything resembling a force for national unity has become a losing proposition.

For two years, American sergeants, captains and majors training the Iraqis have told their bosses that Iraqi troops have no sense of national identity, are only in it for the money, don't show up for duty and cannot sustain themselves.

Meanwhile, colonels and generals have asked their bosses for more troops. Service chiefs have asked for more money.

And all along, Rumsfeld has assured us that things are well in hand.

Now, the president says he'll stick with Rumsfeld for the balance of his term in the White House.

This is a mistake. It is one thing for the majority of Americans to think Rumsfeld has failed. But when the nation's current military leaders start to break publicly with their defense secretary, then it is clear that he is losing control of the institution he ostensibly leads.

These officers have been loyal public promoters of a war policy many privately feared would fail. They have kept their counsel private, adhering to more than two centuries of American tradition of subordination of the military to civilian authority.

And although that tradition, and the officers' deep sense of honor, prevent them from saying this publicly, more and more of them believe it.

Rumsfeld has lost credibility with the uniformed leadership, with the troops, with Congress and with the public at large. His strategy has failed, and his ability to lead is compromised. And although the blame for our failures in Iraq rests with the secretary, it will be the troops who bear its brunt.

This is not about the midterm elections. Regardless of which party wins Nov. 7, the time has come, Mr. President, to face the hard bruising truth:

Donald Rumsfeld must go.

The editors of the Army Times, Navy Times, Air Force Times and Marine Corps Times are right: "This is not about the mid-term elections." No matter which party wins, the problem of the administration's approach to the Iraq War in general and to Rumsfeld in particular must be addressed.

But the mid-term elections will decide how seriously and how quickly that problem is addressed. And an editorial like this one, published on the day before national elections, cannot be read as anything but a clarion call to the American people to vote "no" in what the president has made a referendum on retaining Rumsfeld.

Neo Culpa

As I left work yesterday, on the eve of this referendum on the Bush Administration's failed, disastrous policies--especially the neocon-led invasion of Iraq, I got a PR email blast from Vanity Fair. "Perle and Adelman Blast Bush Administration....If Given Second Chance, Would Not support Invasion."

2,800 Americans dead, more than 20,000 wounded and maimed, 100s of thousands of Iraqis dead, and these two neocon thugs are having second thoughts? Shameless doesn't even begin to describe these characters. (And remember that Mr. Adelman coined the phrase about how it would all be a "cakewalk.")

In the last couple of hours, people have sent me emails about this forthcoming story, Almost all end up saying, "well, the rats are jumping the ship." I agreed at first. But then I thought--do not demean the good animal, the rat, by analogy. These two men and their neocon allies are political criminals, not rats, and they have much to answer for, in the court of history, and in the dock of judgment--down the road.

Bad News for Bush: He's Headed for Nebraska

Two years ago, George Bush beat John Kerry in Nebraska by a 66-33 margin. The Republican president carried all but one of the state's counties, as Republican candidates swept to easy victories in the state's three congressional districts.

So why has George Bush rushed to Nebraska to campaign on the eve of this year's mid-term congressional elections? Because, amazingly, in one of the reddest of the red states, a Democrat could pick up a GOP House seat. If Nebraska falls it will almost certainly be in the face of a Democratic wave that will sweep in a Congress capable of holding to account a president who has not previously experienced the joys of being checked and balanced.

That Democrats are likely to take control of the House Tuesday is no longer news. That they might take it with a substantial enough majority to get serious about presidential accountability is what the Bush White House now fears.

The fight in Nebraska offers evidence of just how real the threat has become.

The Republicans are in trouble in the rural 3rd district of the state, which gave Bush 75 percent of the vote in 2004, At the same time reelected Republican Congressman Tom Osborne with 87 percent of the vote.

As the 2006 election approaches, however, a Democrat is actually leading in some polls of the race to replace the retiring Osborne.

No Democrat has won this Nebraska seat since 1958, in the final mid-term election of Dwight Eisenhower's presidency. So how could this seat, representing a sprawling region of farms and smalltowns be so in play that the president must be called on to save the day for the Republicans?

It has something to do with issues: Even Nebraska Republicans are wary about the Bush administration's handling of the Iraq war. Nebraska U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel has frequently compared the conflict to the Vietnam imbroglio, and the popular Republican's not alone in his concerns. Also, Republican ethics problems in general, and the controversy over Florida Congressman Mark Foley's emails to congressional pages in particular, have played especially badly for the GOP in a state that prides itself on following the rules.

But the GOP's problem in Nebraska has a lot to do with the candidate who is challenging their party's long-time dominance of the 3rd district. Democrat Scott Kleeb has run a remarkable grassroots campaign that has focused both on the ethics crisis created by Republican dominance of Washington and on the failure of DC politicians to protect farmers and rural economies. After years of failing to reach out to rural voters, national Democrats have recognized the strength of Kleeb's appeal, providing the Yale-educated rancher with last-minute infusions of campaign cash for the first-time candidate's final push in the race with Republican state Sen. Adrian Smith.

The combination's Kleeb's aggressive campaigning on rural issues and Republican disenchantment with Smith, who narrowly won a divisive primary, appears to be tipping the race toward the Democrat. An October 30 survey by the Democratic polling group Penn, Schoen, and Berland Associates had Kleeb leading Smith by a 46 percent to 40 percent margin among likely voters.

And Kleeb has begun picking up newspaper endorsements from key papers in the state, including the Omaha World Herald.

So President Bush has been pulled out of other states where the GOP is in trouble to campaign in, of all places, Nebraska. The president will be the state Sunday, begging wandering Republican voters in the 3rd district to return to the party fold.

Bush may succeed in saving a Nebraska seat for the GOP -- althopugh that is far from a certainty. But if the president and his Grand Old Party are fighting for Nebraska on the weekend before critical mid-term elections, the Republicans are in very serious trouble. Indeed, the president's decision to schedule a trip to the state confirms just how tough this election year has become for a man and a party that used to be able to take states this red for granted.

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

Soldiers Get Political

Vote Vets, a coalition of soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, have produced three of the best and most powerful tv ads of this political season.

These ads show how profoundly anti-military the Republican Party has become, by cutting veterans' health care in a time of war, by sending our troops into battle without the body armor they needed and by hyping a non-existent threat in Iraq that has made America less secure and needlessly put our loved ones at risk.

A related group, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), recently released a report card grading how Congress voted on issues important to recent war vets. Eighty six members of Congress received a "D" or an "F." All of the twelve flunkees were Republicans. In contract, virtually the entire "A Team" is compromised of Democrats.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist, or even an A student, to figure out which party really supports the troops. That's why so many vets, from Patrick Murphy, Joe Sestak and Chris Carney in Pennsylvania, to Tammy Duckworth in Illinois to Charlie Brown in California are in good shape 24 hours before the polls close.