A campaign is being launched this week by a host of groups including Progressive Democrats of America, Peace Action and others to demand an exit strategy from Iraq. A central part of these efforts is a new petition which lays out a way to get out of Iraq and will be presented to Congress in mid-September.
This comes at what could be a tipping point moment. The country is waking up to the truth that Bush's decisions have led to the unnecessary deaths of more than 1,800 Americans, and tens of thousands of Iraqis, while making the US, the world and Iraq less secure. A majority of Americans now understand that we were deliberately misled into war; a majority recognize that the US made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq; and a majority believe that no matter how long US troops remain there, they will not be able to establish a stable, democratic government.
Cindy Sheehan's dignified and defiant stance in Crawford has highlighted the callousness of a President who lacks the compassion to grieve or mourn for those he sent into battle. As E.L. Doctorow wrote last year, "I fault this president for not knowing what death is...He does not feel a personal responsibility for the thousand dead young men and women who wanted to be what they could be."
President Bush should meet with Sheehan. But, even more important, he should listen to the grieving mother, and to the growing number of military families and citizens who are demanding an end to the disastrous occupation of Iraq. Bush should also listen to those who will testify at informal Congressional hearings--now expected on the eve of the September 24 to 26 antiwar demonstrations--designed to explore possible exit strategies. It is anticipated that leading US academics, opposition politicians, civil society activists and Iraqi parliamentarians seeking an end to US occupation will testify.
And for those interested in an honorable and speedy exit strategy, please read, circulate and sign the petition published below. The petition is a response and challenge to the charge that peace and security advocates have no plan. The truth is that Secretary Rumsfeld has no exit strategy--only a "victory strategy." The truth is that the leadership of the Democratic Party has offered no alternative to Bush's policies beyond invading Falluja, adding more American troops, training more Iraqis and providing better body armor. All these policies are failing and will continue to fail. But there is another option: adopting a framework of conflict resolution as the alternative to permanent war and occupation.
Last August, we lived through the filth of the Swift Boat Veterans' mendacious attacks on John Kerry. One year later, America's attention is riveted by the moral protest emanating from Camp Crawford. What was once considered "marginal" is now at the center of our national conversation. Perhaps most significant, a large majority of people in this country agree with Sheehan that some or all US troops should be withdrawn from Iraq. If you're one of them, read the petition below and click here to add your name to this growing antiwar effort.
A Petition for an Iraqi Peace Process
"For Mr. Bush, questions about an exit strategy in Iraq have become especially delicate as a crowd of anti-war protestors has expanded at the edge of his ranch, rallying around Cindy Sheehan, the California woman whose son Casey was killed in Iraq in 2004."--New York Times, Aug. 12, 2005.
Like our friend Cindy Sheehan, we are tired of waiting for our troops to come home. We are tired of the bloodshed, tired of tax dollar waste, tired of torture cover-ups, tired of contractor scandals, tired of deceit and fabrication. We are tired of elected officials with profiles in compromise rather than courage.
It is dishonest to admit there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, only to invent new reasons for inflicting mass destruction on that country.
It is dishonorable to fix the facts around the policy.
It is unacceptable to admit that going to war was a mistake, only to claim that the mistake must be perpetuated.
Because we cannot wait for our government to lead, we shall become leaders in ending the war ourselves. We shall propose an exit strategy from Iraq and demand that our government listen and follow. Because we cannot wait for our government to plan for peace, we call on civil society to make our government pay attention.
There are simply no military solutions to this bloodshed. The American military presence, threatening to Iraqi nationalism, religion and culture, is the main cause of the violent response from Iraqis. US policies are pushing Iraq toward civil war, with our government funding and arming Shiites and Kurds against Sunnis. Nearly half of the Iraqi national assembly has called for the "departure of the occupation". The State Department's own internal surveys show that a majority of Iraqis feel less safe in the presence of the American occupying forces. Since the invasion and occupation, the status and safety of women in Iraq have declined precipitously.
Iraqis themselves are calling for the end of occupation. One million recently signed a petition demanding the withdrawal of foreign forces from Iraq. Initial peace talks among Iraqis are already underway. Our government is deaf to these Iraqi voices for peace.
It is time to shift from a military model to a conflict-resolution model aimed at a peace process and negotiated political settlement.
We propose the following principles as essential to ending the war in Iraq:
First, as a confidence-building measure, the US government must declare that it has no interest in permanent military bases or the control of Iraqi oil or other resources.
Second, as a further confidence-building measure, the U.S. government must set goals for ending the occupation and bringing all our troops home - in months, not years, beginning with an initial withdrawal of troops by the end of this year.
Third, the US government must request that the United Nations monitor the process of military disengagement and de-escalation, and organize a peaceful reconstruction effort. The US must accept its obligation to fairly compensate Iraqis for damages, assist Iraqi reconstruction, cease the imposition of privatization schemes, and end the dominance of US contractors in the bidding process.
Fourth, the US government should appoint a peace envoy independent of the occupation authorities to underscore its commitment to an entirely different mission, that of a peace process ending the occupation and returning our soldiers home.
Fifth, the peace envoy should encourage and cooperate in talks with Iraqi groups opposed to the occupation, including insurgents, to explore a political settlement. The settlement must include representation of opposition forces and parties, and power-sharing and the protection of women's rights as core principles of governance and economic and energy development. We believe such an initiative will reduce, though not eliminate, violence by lessening any rationale for Jihadist or sectarian conflict.
We send this message to all Americans in civil society, to our elected officials, and to the global peace movement. We demand that Congressional hearings begin to define an exit strategy now. We demand that members of Congress, reflecting the will of the people, adopt policy and budget initiatives that call for an exit strategy based on the above principles. We demand a peace envoy, peace talks with the opposition, reconstruction, the closure of US bases, and the safe return home of all US troops.
One need not be a student of Tom DeLay's dirty dealings to recognize that the corruption of Washington is very nearly complete. Occupied by a president and vice president who are oilmen first and statesmen last, a Congress where Republicans and Democrats delay their votes until they have checked their campaign fund-raising receipts and a judiciary that is rapidly being packed with "bought" corporate lawyers such as Supreme Court nominee John Roberts, the nation's capital often seems completely beyond redemption.
It is not quite so true in the nation's 50 state capitals, however. Despite the ugliest efforts of corporate America -- via a lobbying frontgroup, the American Legislative Exchange Council -- to warp the process from Augusta (Maine) to Sacremento (California) as thoroughly as it has in Washington, there are still openings for progressive policymaking at the state level. Those openings are the target of the new Progressive Legislative Action Network (PLAN), a coalition developed to provide reform-minded legislators with strategic and research support as they seek to address the pressing economic and social issues that are left untended in a time of corporate hegemony.
"The goal is to bring as diverse a coalition together as possible so that our side has a cohesive agenda in the states," says David Sirota, the veteran progressive activist who has helped organize the network. "For too long, conservatives have been able to use huge sums of money to push the most radical right-wing policies through state legislatures. PLAN is committed to putting together the necessary resources and necessary coalitions to help progressive legislators stop this unchecked extremism, and start passing legislation that makes state governments work for ordinary citizens, not just monied special interests."
PLAN was set to formally launch Tuesday in Seattle, where the National Conference of State Legislatures gathers this week for its 2005 "Strong States, Strong Nation" annual meeting. The launch features appearances by former U.S. Sen. John Edwards, the 2004 Democratic nominee for vice president who has reemerged as an aggressive advocate for political and economic initiatives aimed addressing the gap between rich and poor in the United States, former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, who for many years was the most powerful player in the California state Assembly, and Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, whose 2004 election proved that progressive Democratic reformers can win in so-called "red states." The launch is being co-sponsored by MoveOn.org, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the United Steelworkers union, and progressive philanthropists Andy and Deborah Rappaport -- support that provides an encouraging indication of the openness of powerful players on the left to the state-based work that will provide the models for renewal of the progressive movement nationally.
"Starting in the states" is not a new idea. In fact, most significant reform movements in American history have begun at the municipal or state level and built upward. At the dawn of the past century, the state-based progressive movements of the upper Midwest created what Justice Louis D. Brandeis referred to as "laboratories of democracy," where problems were addressed by creative legislators and governors in ways that federal officials eventually chose to mirror -- at first in the form of individual initiatives on issues such as child labor but ultimately with Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal.
Sirota, who has worked as an aide to U.S. Representatives Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, and David Obey, D-Wisconsin, and his PLAN co-chair, former Montana State Senate Minority Leader Steve Doherty, know that while there are important precedents for state-based work, there are also mighty challenges. ALEC, the corporate-funded legislative network, has been polluting the process for decades, building alliances with both Republican and Democratic legislators; and corporate interests have begun to pour money not only into legislative contests but into races for state judgeships and attorney general and public service commission posts. Additionally, an increasingly corporatized and homogenized media no longer provides the distinct coverage of state politics that was the norm 100, or even 20, years ago.
Previous attempts to develop progressive alternatives to ALEC, in particular, and corporate influence, in general, at the state level have met with mixed success. And there are no guarantees that PLAN will be any more successful. But there are reasons to be encouraged. Sirota and Doherty are smart players with strong track records of progressive activism in challenging settings. They have headquartered their group in Helena, Montana, rather than Washington. And they have chosen an unapologetic approach best evidenced by Sirota's remarks at this month's Steelworkers union convention, where he told delegates, "Washington, DC, today is so overrun by Big Money and so controlled by an entrenched party establishment that there is almost no hope to change things there in the short run. And more important, truly successful movements in American history have always started at the grassroots level, not in the insulated halls of elite power. Why? Because Corporate America has a harder time controlling fifty states than it does controlling one city. It is easier to buy off one set of politicians than it is to buy off fifty separate political arenas. Additionally, state lawmakers are inherently closer to the concerns of their constituents than any Washington politician ever could be."
Sirota's got his history right. And he's got his politics right. Recognizing that "there are literally hundreds of state lawmakers all over America right now ready to fight on behalf of ordinary, hard-working Americans, ready to start helping citizens raise their wages, improve their access to healthcare, protect their pensions and, in general, secure their economic future," he says that with this base of progressive legislators, "Now it is time to fight back."
While the time is right, and the need to begin chalking up victories at the state level is more pressing than at any point since the last progressive movement took form, PLAN's organizers understand that they are in entering a serious fight. Until there is fundamental campaign finance and ethics law reform, corporate interests will always be able to buy legislative influence with campaign contributions and huge lobbying expenditures. Progressive interests must rely on the willingness of honest legislators in both parties to entertain their ideas, and on popular pressure from grassroots groups.
While the task is daunting, the initiative is worth undertaking.As Louis Brandeis noted decades ago, "one of the happy incidents of the federal system (is) that a single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments." Ultimately, the justice explained, states can lead the nation in a process that will "remould, through experimentation, our economic practices and institutions to meet changing social and economic needs."
So what's PLAN's plan? Hopefully, to prove that the wisdom of Brandeis with regard to state-based activism has carried through to the 21st century.
This past weekend, thousands of activists gathered at Los Alamos and other prominent nuclear facilities across the country to mark the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Japan. As demonstrators chanted "No more Hiroshimas! No more Nagasakis!," President Bush chose to honor the anniversary in another way: by proceeding with his plans to build newer, even more powerful nukes.
Last month, the Senate approved Bush's initial request of $4 million for research on a "robust nuclear earth penetrator" (RNEP)--a bomb that George Monbiot of the UK Guardian writes, has "a yield about 10 times that of the Hiroshima device." For all Bush has done to condemn the global proliferation of WMD, his actions are almost single-handedly destroying the Non-Proliferation Treaty, a pact signed by nearly 200 nations.
But Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey--co-chair of the recently revamped Congressional Progressive Caucus--is taking a stand against Bush's hypocrisy. On July 20th, she introduced a resolution calling for the president to fulfill his obligation to the Non-Proliferation Treaty by beginning "verifiable and irreversible reductions in the United States strategic and tactical nuclear weapons and their delivery systems." "There will be no security for America or our world," Woolsey says, "unless we take all steps necessary for nuclear disarmament."
Woolsey's bill is one of several bold new initiatives launched by members of the Progressive Caucus to try to open the suffocating consensus (especially on national security issues) in Congress. Since hiring Bill Goold as the CPC's first full-time staffer, Woolsey and her colleagues have drawn up several strong, sensible resolutions for withdrawal from Iraq and issued a powerful statement of core values in their "Progressive Promise."
Woolsey's H.Res.373 aims to fulfill one of the objectives outlined in the Promise: "To re-build US alliances around the world, restore international respect for American power and influence, and reaffirm our nation's constructive engagement in the United Nations and other multilateral organizations."
At a time in which America's relations with the world continue to be sullied by the politics of Boltonism, voices like Woolsey's are critical. To join the fight against Bush's nuclear nonsense, call your representatives and urge them to support H.Res.373.
We also want to hear from you. Please let us know if you have a sweet victory you think we should cover by e-mailing email@example.com.
Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist, documentary filmmaker and blogger (www.boldprint.net) living in Brooklyn.
George Bush is on vacation in Crawford, Texas, taking the same August-long break that he did in the summer before the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The appeal of Crawford appears to be that it provides the President with an opportunity to put aside all the troubles of the world and to focus on fixing fences and clearing brush. After all, it was during his previous vacation that Bush ignored an August 6, 2001, briefing document titled: "Bin Laden determined to attack inside the U.S."
Bush's inner circle, a collection of neoconservative ideologues with an agenda of their own rather than an interest in what is best for the United States, made no effort in 2001 to steer the President's attention toward pressing matters of national security. And they remain determined to keep the woefully disengaged chief executive focused on busy work around the ranch rather than life-and-death questions of how this country should position itself in a complex and dangerous world.
But this summer, the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq named Cindy Sheehan is making it harder for Bush to ignore the truth that his decisions have led to the unnecessary deaths of more than 1,800 Americans, and tens of thousands of Iraqis, while making both the United States and Iraq more vulnerable to violence.
Sheehan's 24-year-old son, Army Specialist Casey A. Sheehan, died on April 4, 2004--almost a year after Bush was dressed up in flight-suit drag to appear before a banner that declared "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq. Sheehan mourned, as any mother would. But then she organized, helping to found Gold Star Families for Peace, an organization of relatives of soldiers killed in Iraq who are demanding an end to the ill-fated occupation of that land and a redirection of US policy to achieve real security--as opposed to neoconservative misadventuring.
On August 3 of this year, Bush addressed the mounting death toll in Iraq with a pair of declarations:
1. "We have to honor the sacrifices of the fallen by completing the mission."
2. "The families of the fallen can be assured that they died for a noble cause."
Sheehan correctly identified Bush's words as "asinine and hurtful." And she headed for Crawford to try and confront the President on the August 6 anniversary of that neglected memorandum on bin Laden's intentions.
Sheehan went to Crawford with a pair of messages for the vacationing president:
1. We want our loved ones sacrifices to be honored by bringing our nation's sons and daughters home from the travesty that is Iraq immediately, since this war is based on horrendous lies and deceptions. Just because our children are dead, why would we want any more families to suffer the same pain and devastation that we are?
2. We would like for him to explain this "noble cause" to us and ask him why (presidential daughters) Jenna and Barbara are not in harm's way, if the cause is so noble.
Sheehan's bottom line, and that of Gold Star Families for Peace, is a blunt truth that the President has failed to consider: that the best way to honor the sacrifices of those who have died in Iraq is to end the occupation and bring the troops home now.
So far, the President has refused to listen to Cindy Sheehan, who says, "The sound I do want to hear is the sound of a nation waking up." But that wake-up call is being heard by the majority of Americans. In the latest Gallup/CNN/USA Today poll, 54 percent of Americans surveyed said the US made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq. That number is up eight points from July. Fifty-one percent of those surveyed said the Bush Administration deliberately misled the public about the reasons for going to war. Fifty-eight percent said that, no matter how long US troops remain in Iraq, they will not be able to establish a stable, democratic government there.
George Bush has been listening for too long to Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Condi Rice. He should take a real vacation from the neocon fantasy factory of his misguided aides and sit down with someone who can introduce him to the reality of what is going on in Iraq and the world. The President should meet with Cindy Sheehan. And he should listen to this woman, who has sacrificed more than he or anyone in his inner circle ever has for America.
There are many reasons why Cindy Sheehan is attracting a flood of media attention. The mother of a soldier killed in Iraq, Sheehan is camping out near President Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas and says she won't leave until Bush agrees to meet with her to discuss the war. With a compelling personal narrative, an articulate voice and an obvious mainstream pedigree, Sheehan is tapping into a growing popular feeling that the Bush Administration is out of touch with the realities of the Iraq war.
This past Saturday, Bush's national security adviser and the White House deputy chief of staff were dispatched to meet with Sheehan beside a road a few miles from Bush's ranch, but she is still insisting on a meeting with the president before she will end her vigil. So far, the White House has adamantly refused but this refusal is starting to exact major public relations costs. With what Maureen Dowd called the "absolute" moral authority of a mother who has lost her son to war, Sheehan's protest is giving voice to a question more and more Americans are--finally--asking: Why did we invade Iraq?
Sen. George Allen (Republican, Va.) has publicly encouraged the President to meet with Sheehan and answer her questions. Click here and urge your elected reps to make the same public call. There's also a new website--MeetWithCindy.Org--which makes it easy to help support Sheehan's efforts, whether you want to make plans to go to Crawford or whether you want to make it possible for others to do the same. The Crawford Peace House is also mobilizing support for Sheehan.
As Sheehan herself wrote last month in a piece posted on the Common Dreams site, "I want to hear the sound of our children getting off planes and boats from Iraq to the joyful squealing of their children and the deep sighs of relief from their spouses, parents, and other loved ones. I want to hear our citizenry lifting up their voices in chorus and singing, 'We will never let this happen again.'"
Help make her vision a reality.
Bonus Link:Read Cindy Sheehan's report on why she's protesting in Crawford, published yesterday on The Huffington Post.
Last month, Rabbi Michael Lerner--the founding editor of Tikkun magazine--convened a Conference on Spiritual Activism in Berkeley. It was there that he launched a new organization called the Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP).
Lerner describes it as "the most significant inter-faith effort" to bring together "religious, secular and spiritual-but-not-religious progressives." Thirteen hundred people--Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and "spiritual but not religious people"--turned out for the conference to network and hear talks from Dave Robinson, the Executive Director of Pax Christi USA; Michael Nagler, founder of Berkeley's Peace and Conflict Studies Program; the Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners magazine and Mahatma Gandhi's grandson.
The Network, Lerner explained in an interview last week, is seeking to transform our nation's institutions and culture by addressing the American people's "spiritual crisis." This crisis, he argues, stems from "an excess of selfishness and materialism" associated with American capitalism, and the fledgling organization wants to change society's bottom line by de-emphasizing "money and power" and reinforcing values like "love and caring, ethical and ecological sensitivity and behavior, kindness and generosity, non-violence and peace."
NSP's agenda includes proposals to add a constitutional amendment that would require corporations with more than $50 million in annual income to renew their charters every ten years by appearing before a jury of citizens and proving they had behaved in a socially responsible manner; to create a G-8 "Marshall Plan" whereby 5 percent of the richest nations' GDP would be donated to the most impoverished nations to fight poverty and guard against environmental degradation left over by decades of colonialism; and to refocus our nation's educational efforts around values like "caring," rather than "competition."
Critical to Lerner's agenda is to challenge what he calls "religio-phobia" on the left. Perhaps with that in mind, once the conference ended, he sent Tikkun's readers an e-mail blast that urged them to call The Nation and other progressive media outlets, which he said had failed to cover the Berkeley event, showed hostility to the religious left and had (once again) turned their backs on Tikkun and the politics of spirituality.
I traded e-mails with Lerner after receiving that letter. I pointed out that The Nation has, in fact, been committed to the inclusion of spiritual and religious perspectives since the magazine was founded by men (no women, sadly) devoted to a moral politics that sought the abolition of slavery. I reminded Lerner that leading religious left figures have appeared in our pages over the decades. Our civil rights correspondent in the early 1960s, for example, was the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. In the 1970s and '80s, Penny Lernoux wrote numerous pathbreaking articles relating Christ's teaching to the struggle of Latin America's people for justice in the face of powerful and corrupt elites and military juntas. More recently, in one of the first issues I edited in 1996, Harvey Cox--the eminent Harvard theology professor--argued that "to purge the public square of religion is to cut the roots of the values that nourish our fondest causes."
Just last summer, The Nation ran a cover story about the religious left to remind readers of the historic ties between the religious community and progressives. As our contributing writer Eyal Press argued, "if the emphasis on separating faith and politics alienates religious progressives and dampens their social activism, the left stands to lose a lot--both at the ballot box and in terms of social progress."
And, on a more personal note, I published an interview in this space in February in which the Rev. George Hunsinger--the McCord professor of theology at Princeton Theological Seminary and the coordinator of Church Folks for a Better America--argued that reviving the progressive movement "may well hinge on whether" the liberal left can be more "hospitable to religious people." (He also insisted that we need to reframe the "moral values" debate on issues of torture, pre-emption, unjust war and poverty.)
It's true that many on the left view religion as, at best, an obstacle to enlightenment and reason and, at worst, a source of bigotry and intolerance through the ages. And in these times, when as writer Philip Roth has noted, we are living in "the fourth year of the ministry of George W. Bush," when the separation of church and state is under assault, and with the pervasive influence of a fundamentalist, intolerant religious right, it is even harder for secularists to hear those religious voices that speak of peace, social justice and respectful interdependence.
But these are also times which try men's (and women's) souls, times of defeat and challenge, when even the most hard-core secularists are seeking deeper meaning and spiritual sustenance in their lives. I was struck by a recent correspondence on the Portside listserv--which is hosted by the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. A reader, a self-identified Marxist, commenting on a favorable piece about Lerner's new network (by Van Jones, an extraordinary activist and preacher, and director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights) urged "Marxists to recognize the reality of human spirituality" as a political force that will underpin the rise of any progressive majority.
I believe that one of the key issues facing the left (and admittedly there are many) is whether all of us--secular, spiritual and religious alike--can treat one another with the humanity, honesty, respect and grace we all need and deserve. We also need to answer this question: Can we unite to challenge the religious right through a new politics of the religious left?
As Lerner wrote me last week, "...the need to overcome the potentially fascistic direction of American politics as the Religious Right and the secular right strengthen their alliance and their hold on American political institutions makes us want to transcend past upsets and focus on how to build the most effective social change movement for the future..."
We've done it before. Religious and secular progressives have a long history of working together, albeit in a dramatically different social and political climate. Almost every major social reform movement in America (and many around the world--think on this tweny-fifth anniversary summer of Solidarity's inception) has been fueled in part by faith.
As Reverend Hunsinger pointed out in his interview with me, the antiwar activists Father Robert Drinan and the Rev. William Sloane Coffin Jr. were both inspirations to peace activists everywhere. In his recent book, A Stone of Hope, the historian David Chappell convincingly likened the civil rights movement to a religious revival, showing how black Southerners inspired by the prophetic tradition of the Old Testament spearheaded the drive to abolish "the sin of segregration." And in the 1980s, progressive religious congregations led the sanctuary movement, which opened up US cities to Latinos who were fleeing Reagan's covert interventions in Central America. They also played an important role in the massive grassroots drive to curtail the nuclear arms race.
Recent examples of religious left activism include the work of the National Council of Churches--last month, it sent President Bush a letter arguing that America's rationale for invading Iraq was "at best a tragic mistake"; it has also taken the lead in fighting for universal healthcare, affordable housing and full employment. There is also the work of Pastors for Peace, which delivers humanitarian aid to the Cuban people and works with the Cuban Council of Churches and other faith-based organizations to normalize ties with Cuba. And don't forget the stalwart American Friends Service Committee, which has been instrumental in establishing sister city programs with municipalities around the world.
Indeed, Van Jones may be on the mark when he argues that "the last time US progressives captured the national debate and transformed politics--people of faith were at the center of the movement, not stuck in its closet."
So, The Nation will be following the work of the Network of Spritual Progressives in the days to come, and we urge our readers to do the same. (The group's next conference will be held in the spring in Washington, DC. Click here for info.)
Just as important, and in what I hope is a spirit of generosity and tolerance, we intend to continue to air our differences in our pages and on our website without losing sight of the critical commonalities that will, let's hope, bring us together around our many shared goals.
New York Senator Hillary Clinton has always looked like a good bet to win re-election in 2006--probably by a margin wide enough to jumpstart the 2008 presidential campaign that many Democrats want the former First Lady to make.
With the decision of Westchester County District Attorney Jeanine Pirro to seek the Republican nomination to challenge her, however, Clinton's fortunes have taken a dramatic turn for the better.
Pirro, a hyper-ambitious publicity hound who frequently turns up on the Fox News Channel as a "legal affairs" commentator, had been weighing races for governor, attorney general or Clinton's Senate seat. With the fortunes of the state Republican Party in decline (even the conservative New York Post says that "New York's GOP is withering--fast"), Pirro was unlikely to win any of those posts. So she opted for the showcase contest: a challenge to the woman Republicans around the country love to hate. Pirro's announcement garnered homestate headlines, enthusiastic coverage on Fox and conservative talk radio and promises of hefty campaign contribution checks from Hillary-haters nationwide.
But, as the Post admitted, the Pirro campaign is "not one (Clinton's) likely to lose sleep over."
Pirro supports abortion rights and reproductive freedom. She's for civil unions and other gay rights measures. She favors affirmative action and opposes the strict immigration quotas favored by Congressional conservatives. She's a big backer of gun control. And she's been enthusiastic about precisely the sort of "big-government" solutions to child-welfare and community issues that Republicans condemn Clinton for promoting.
In other words, Pirro is more of a Rockefeller Republican than a Reaganite. Yet, in an era of sharper-than-ever partisan divisions, Pirro will attract few if any votes from moderate-to-liberal New Yorkers who have sent clear signals that they do not want to give aid and comfort to President Bush and Congressional Republicans. Don't forget that Bush lost New York state by more than 1,350,000 votes in 2004. In the same year, Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer was re-elected with 71 percent of the vote and the GOP suffered a rare loss of a House seat in the Buffalo area while several of its House incumbents, such as upstater Tom Reynolds, saw their victory margins slashed.
It is comic to suggest that Clinton will lose many moderate-to-liberal votes to Pirro just because, in the words of the the King of the Hillary Haters, Dick Morris, "Hillary will have to end up running against someone who is quite like herself in her public positions." New Yorkers are savvy enough to know that, if Pirro wins, she will vote to put right-wing Republican opponents of choice, gay rights and gun control in charge of the Senate, and that will disqualify Pirro with precisely the sort of voters she would need to mount a serious challenge to Clinton.
Morris suggests that Pirro might be able to draw support as a "tough-on-terror" candidate, playing the national security card against Clinton as have other Republicans in other states. But that is an even more comic claim. There is nothing progressive, nor even liberal about Hillary Clinton's stance on national security issues--she wants to "stay the course" in Iraq, she's backed even the most over-the-top spending allocations for the war, she's been a supporter of the Patriot Act and other assaults on civil liberties and she's frequently more in line with the Bush Administration's approach on national security issues than a number of Senate Republicans.
When all is said and done, Clinton could end up benefitting from the "name" Republican challenge posed by Pirro, as it will reinforce the Democrat's position with base voters who might otherwise have problems with her centrist stances.
Indeed, if there is a candidate who is going to have a problem with her base, it's Pirro.
Several more conservative candidates are in the Republican race, including Ed Cox, a prominent New York lawyer who is the son-in-law of former President Richard Nixon, former Yonkers Mayor John Spencer and attorney Bill Brenner. Pirro may beat the three of them for the GOP nod. But one member of that trio is likely to be the nominee of the Conservative Party, a New York state institution that refused to back Schumer's moderate Republican challenger in 2004 and gained 220,960 votes for a little-known candidate running on its party line in the race. (In the presidential vote, the Conservatives backed Bush, who obtained 155,574 votes, more than 5 percent of his state total, on its line.)
If Pirro loses hundreds of thousands of votes to a Conservative Party nominee, she could well run a weaker race than Clinton's 2000 foe, former US Representative Rick Lazio, who had the Republican and Conservative endorsements. (Lazio got 43 percent of the vote that year, while polls currently put Pirro at around 29 percent.)
That may not be the worst of it for Pirro. While there is no question that Hillary Clinton suffers among some voters because of her association with her husband, former President Bill Clinton, Pirro has a husband problem of her own. As the Post's able politcal scribe, Fredric U. Dicker, gently notes, "Pirro's strength as a candidate is handicapped by her husband Albert's conviction in 2000 on federal income-tax fraud charges, an earlier revelation that he fathered an out-of-wedlock daughter, as well as the recent allegation by a Mafia informant that Al Pirro leaked confidential material from an ongoing Westchester DA's probe."
Plenty of ink will be spilled over the next fifteen months on the Clinton-Pirro race, and talk-TV and radio will love the fight. But if there was any cheering heard after Pirro announced on Monday, it was coming from Clinton's headquarters.
I'm on vacation, but I couldn't resist posting the below on my davidcorn.com site, where I routinely obsess over the Karl Rove scandal.
Last week, the Justice Department issued a new indictment of Lawrence Franklin, the Pentagon official accused of passing secrets to officials of AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobbying outfit. The indictment is bad news for the Bush White House and Karl Rove.
That's not only because the Franklin case is embarrassing for the administration, the Pentagon, and their neocon allies. (Franklin worked with Douglas Feith, who until recently was a senior Pentagon official close to the neocons.) The Franklin indictment is a sign that Rove and any other White House aide involved in the Plame/CIA leak might be vulnerable to prosecution under the Espionage Act.
Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald--who is not involved in the Franklin prosecution--has not had to state publicly what sort of case he is trying to build in the Plame/CIA leak matter. The most obvious one would be based on the charge that the leaker violated the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. But that law was narrowly drawn, and to win a conviction Fitzgerald would have to prove that Rove or any other leaker knew that Valerie Wilson was working under cover at the CIA. There are, however, other laws under which Fitzgerald might charge the CIA/Plame leakers. The Franklin indictment points the way. (And criminal law aside, by sharing classified information with at least two reporters--Valerie Wilson's employment at the CIA was classified--Rove committed an offense that violated various rules and would get most government workers seriously punished or dismissed.)
The Franklin indictments notes:
On or about December 8, 1999, FRANKLIN signed a Classified Information Nondisclosure Agreement, a Standard Form 312 (SF-312). In that document FRANKLIN acknowledged that he was aware that the unauthorized disclosure of classified information by him could cause irreparable injury to the United States or could be used to advantage by a foreign nation and that he would never divulge classified information to an unauthorized person. He further acknowledged that he would never divulge classified information unless he had officially verified that the recipient was authorized by the United States to receive it. Additionally, he agreed that if he was uncertain about the classification status of information, he was required to confirm from an authorized official that the information is unclassified before he could disclose it.
Yet, the indictment alleges, Franklin passed classified information to Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, two senior AIPAC officials. And the indictment claims Rosen and Weissman shared this information with Israel. Consequently, the indictment charges Franklin, Rosen and Weissman with "conspiracy to communicate National Defense Information under sections 793(d) and 793(e) of Title 18, United States Code. And Franklin was charged with three counts of "communication of National Defense Information"--not conspiracy--under section 793(d). He was also charged with one count of "conspiracy to communicate classified information" to a foreign government.
Let's look at sections 793(d) and (e). The first generally applies to government officials, the second to nongovernment officials. Both sections make it a crime to transmit national defense information--and the identity of an undercover CIA officer would probably count as national defense information--to a person unauthorized to receive it (such as a reporter). These sections define violators as
(d) Whoever, lawfully having possession of, access to, control over, or being entrusted with any document, writing, code book, signal book, sketch, photograph, photographic negative, blueprint, plan, map, model, instrument, appliance, or note relating to the national defense, or information relating to the national defense which information the possessor has reason to believe could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation, willfully communicates, delivers, transmits or causes to be communicated, delivered, or transmitted or attempts to communicate, deliver, transmit or cause to be communicated, delivered or transmitted the same to any person not entitled to receive it, or willfully retains the same and fails to deliver it on demand to the officer or employee of the United States entitled to receive it.
(e) Whoever having unauthorized possession of, access to, or control over any document, writing, code book, signal book, sketch, photograph, photographic negative, blueprint, plan, map, model, instrument, appliance, or note relating to the national defense, or information relating to the national defense which information the possessor has reason to believe could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation, willfully communicates, delivers, transmits or causes to be communicated, delivered, or transmitted, or attempts to communicate, deliver, transmit or cause to be communicated, delivered, or transmitted the same to any person not entitled to receive it, or willfully retains the same and fails to deliver it to the officer or employee of the United States entitled to receive it. [Emphasis added.]
Rove, like Franklin, had to sign SF-312. As Rep. Henry Waxman noted in a short report he released on the Rove leak, this nondisclosure agreement states, "I will never divulge classified information to anyone" unauthorized to receive such information. Rove broke that vow. And Executive Order 12958--which Bush updated on March 25, 2003-- says that "officers and employees of the United States Government...shall be subject to appropriate sanctions if they knowingly, willfully, or negligently...disclose to unauthorized persons information properly classified." The sanctions include "reprimand, suspension without pay, removal, termination of classification authority, loss or denial of access to classified information, or other sanctions." So Rove ought to be slapped with one of those punishments.
But worse for Rove--from a legal perspective--is section 793. Rove did communicate classified information which could be used "to the injury of the United States" to a person "not entitled to receive it." The information was the identity of an undercover intelligence official working on anti-WMD operations. Such information could be used to thwart or undermine past or present CIA operations and assets connected to Valerie Wilson. The persons "not entitled" to received this info were Robert Novak and Matt Cooper (and perhaps there were more).
I am--as I've said before--no lawyer. But given the letter of the law in section 793, it seems to me there is a case to be made that Rove essentially did what Franklin did. There may be a difference in intent or awareness. Perhaps Rove did not know he was passing on classified information that could be used to the detriment of the United States (though he should have realized that had he given the matter a moment or two of thought), and it seems that Franklin had to know he was sharing classified material with outsiders. But section 793 does not say a violator must be aware he or she is passing on information that could cause harm to the United States if exposed. It only sets as a criterion that the violator "willfully" communicates this information. I assume that means a purely accidental slip of the lip would not be a crime. But Rove--who told at least two reporters about Valerie Wilson's CIA position--cannot argue he was not "willfully" communicating this information to others.
So might Fitzgerald have a case under section 793? Journalists don't like these sorts of prosecutions, for it brings us close to an official secrets act (like the one that exists in Britain). If prosecutors chased after government leakers--say those who leaked intelligence showing that the White House's case for war in Iraq was weak--the public would suffer. And the Justice Department's indictment of Rosen and Weissman--nongovernment officials--for passing along classified information is also worrisome for reporters who pass along classified information by publishing and airing stories that contain secret information. But Fitzgerald has certainly demonstrated he's not too concerned about pursuing legal cases and setting legal precedents that are bad for journalism. And that's why Rove ought to be sweating the Franklin indictment.
Words such as "conscience" and "honor" have pretty much disappeared from the American political lexicon in this age of Bush Administration lies and leaks. But when the histories of this time are written, it will be remembered that those precious characteristics were not wholly absent.
When British Prime Minister Tony Blair was maneuvering Britain into Bush's Iraq War coalition, one of the most prominent leaders of his Labour Party--a former foreign minister who then served as the party's leader in the House of Commons--resigned from the government and took a place on the back benches to deliver a blistering condemnation of the irrational arguments that Bush and Blair were making for an unwise and unnecessary war.
Robin Cook, who made international headlines with that act of conscience, died Saturday at age 59. To his last days, he remained an ardent foe of the war. Britain's Observer newspaper called him "the most incisively potent of the war's opponents."
Cook's resignation speech remains one of the most noted parliamentary addresses of the contemporary age. And rightly so, as Cook's words have proven to have been remarkably prescient.
Here is a portion of what he said on March 17, 2003, shortly after he left Blair's government to cast a historic vote against the invasion and occupation of Iraq:
I have chosen to address the House first on why I cannot support a war without international agreement or domestic support.
The present Prime Minister is the most successful leader of the Labour Party in my lifetime. I applaud the heroic efforts that the Prime Minister has made in trying to secure a second resolution [at the United Nations]. I do not think that anybody could have done better than the Foreign Secretary in working to get support for a second resolution within the Security Council.
But the very intensity of those attempts underlines how important it was to succeed. Now that those attempts have failed, we cannot pretend that getting a second resolution was of no importance.
The reality is that Britain is being asked to embark on a war without agreement in any of the international bodies of which we are a leading partner--not NATO, not the European Union and, now, not the Security Council.
Only a year ago, we and the United States were part of a coalition against terrorism that was wider and more diverse than I would ever have imagined possible. History will be astonished at the diplomatic miscalculations that led so quickly to the disintegration of that powerful coalition.
Our interests are best protected not by unilateral action but by multilateral agreement and a world order governed by rules. Yet tonight the international partnerships most important to us are weakened: The European Union is divided; the Security Council is in stalemate. Those are heavy casualties of a war in which a shot has yet to be fired.
I have heard some parallels between military action in these circumstances and the military action that we took in Kosovo. There was no doubt about the multilateral support that we had for the action that we took in Kosovo. It was supported by NATO; it was supported by the European Union; it was supported by every single one of the seven neighbors in the region. France and Germany were our active allies. It is precisely because we have none of that support in this case that it was all the more important to get agreement in the Security Council as the last hope of demonstrating international agreement.
Our difficulty in getting support this time is that neither the international community nor the British public is persuaded that there is an urgent and compelling reason for this military action in Iraq.
None of us can predict the death toll of civilians from the forthcoming bombardment of Iraq, but the US warning of a bombing campaign that will "shock and awe" makes it likely that casualties will be numbered at least in the thousands.
For four years as Foreign Secretary I was partly responsible for the Western strategy of containment. Over the past decade that strategy destroyed more weapons than in the Gulf War, dismantled Iraq's nuclear weapons program and halted Saddam's medium- and long-range missiles programs.
Iraq's military strength is now less than half its size than at the time of the last Gulf War. Some advocates of conflict claim that Saddam's forces are so weak, so demoralized and so badly equipped that the war will be over in a few days. We cannot base our military strategy on the assumption that Saddam is weak and at the same time justify pre-emptive action on the claim that he is a threat.
Iraq probably has no weapons of mass destruction in the commonly understood sense of the term--namely a credible device capable of being delivered against a strategic city target. Why is it now so urgent that we should take military action to disarm a military capacity that has been there for twenty years, and which we helped to create?
It has been a favorite theme of commentators that this House no longer occupies a central role in British politics.
Nothing could better demonstrate that they are wrong than for this House to stop the commitment of troops in a war that has neither international agreement nor domestic support.
I intend to join those tomorrow night who will vote against military action now. It is for that reason, and for that reason alone, and with a heavy heart, that I resign from the government.
It is not often that this column pays tribute to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. But the man who in 1994 played a pivotal role in putting the Republican Party in control of both houses of Congress for the first time in 40 years -- and in developing the strategies that have kept the GOP in control -- has a sharp political mind. And he used it this week to analyze the unexpectedly strong showing of Democrat Paul Hackett in a special election to fill the southern Ohio U.S. House seat vacated by U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman.
Hackett won 48.3 percent of the vote in a district where no Democrat had ever gotten more than 28 percent against Portman. In the most Republican House district in the state of Ohio, the Democrat, a Marine veteran of the Iraq war, lost by barely 3,000 votes. And he did that after a campaign in which he said the U.S. should not have invaded the Iraq in the first place and condemned the administration's approach to the occupation. Unlike more cautious Democrats, Hackett was unapologetic about calling President Bush an "SOB" whose actions endangered Americans, and about referring to members of the administration as "chickenhawks."
Of course,most Republicans and their media allies were quick to dismiss the significance of Hackett's showing -- despite the fact that it was the best finish for a Democrat in the district since the Watergate election of 1974. The rules of spin these days are such that reality is rarely allowed to intrude on discussions of politics.
But Gingrich decided to ditch the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee's talking points and recognize the significance of Hackett's near win. Speaking to the Washington Post on the day after the Ohio vote, the former Speaker of the House said, "It should serve as a wake-up call to Republicans. Clearly, there's a pretty strong signal for Republicans thinking about 2006 that they need to do some very serious planning and not just assume that everything is going to be automatically okay."
With a new Associated Press-Ipsos poll showing that President Bush's overall approval rating has fallen to 42 percent, with 55 percent disapproving -- and 50 percent of Americans surveyed saying the nation's top Republican is not honest -- the evidence that the GOP has a potential problem extends well beyond the results from one special election in Ohio.
But the Ohio vote telescoped the significance of concern about the Iraq imbroglio as a factor in the governing party's declining fortunes -- a point confirmed by the new poll's finding that only 38 percent of Americans now approve of Bush's handling of the occupation.
Gingrich acknowledges this reality, saying that, ''There is more energy today on the anti-Iraq, anti-gas price, anti-changing Social Security, and I think anti-Washington (side of the debate). I think the combination of those four are all redounding to weaken Republicans and help Democrats... I don't think this is time to panic, but I think it's time to think. If we don't think now, then next September, people will panic when it's too late."
Gingrich's warning is a wise one for Republicans, and you can bet that it will be taken seriously by at least some leaders of a party that has mastered the art of maintaining power. As such, the real question is this: Will Democrats be smart enough to recognize that Gingrich is right when he speaks about the energy being on the anti-Iraq side?
So far, indications are not encouraging. An analysis of the strong showing by Hackett distributed to Democratic House after the election by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee failed to make any mention of the significance of Iraq as an issue.