The Nation

GOP Governor says WSJ Takes Dem Bribes

With all the bizarre behavior in Washington, it is easy to forget about the over-the-top antics of state officials around the country. But, sometimes, a governor outdoes himself.

Consider the case of Nevada Governor Jim Gibbons, a former Republican congressman who was elected to his current job last November. Gibbons, who was the subject of an inquiry into whether he assaulted a woman during the gubernatorial race, is now reportedly the target of an Federal Bureau of Investigation inquiry into whether he steered federal contracts to a Nevada defense contractor who allegedly made secret payments to the then congressman.

The newspaper that broke the story of the Gibbons scandal was The Wall Street Journal, which is generally seen as the most political conservative and Republican friendly of America's nationally-circulated newspapers. While there is no question that the Journal's editorial page bends hard to the right, it's news pages have a good reputation for reporting responsibly on national affairs -- which should come as no surprise, as titans of industry and Wall Street traders do not like to be lied to.

But Gibbons says The Wall Street Journal is bought and paid for by the Democrats. Indeed, the governor claims "the Democrats have paid to have these Wall Street Journal articles written."

Asked for more details about those payments, the governor's press secretary said, "As far as the Wall Street Journal story goes, we don't know. We don't know who is providing it but we do hear rumors just like you do."

Rumors? Has anyone heard rumors about the Wall Street Journal being on the take from the Democratic Party? If that's the case, Democrats -- aside from Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman -- ought to ask for their money back. No newspaper has more consistently editorialized in favor of the Bush administration's failed policies, and the initiatives of Republicans at the state level, than the Journal.

For the record, officials at the newspaper have not yet come up with any receipts for those Democratic bribes.

Indeed, a Journal spokesperson says, "The Wall Street Journal's articles about Governor Gibbons are supported by extensive reporting. The Governor's suggestion that the Journal's coverage is a product of the Nevada Democrats is baseless."


John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

Chaos in the Greater Middle East

[ Part 1 of "Six Crises in Search of an Author, How the Bush Administration Destabilized the Arc of Instability"-- "Bush's Absurdist Imperialism" -- appeared yesterday. Here is part 2:]

Sweeping across the region from East to West, let's briefly note the six festering or clamoring crisis spots, any one of which could end up with the major role in the epic drama George Bush and his neocons supporters thought they were writing back in their Global War on Terror glory days.

Pakistan: The Pakistani government was America's main partner, along with the Saudis, in funding, arming, and running the anti-Soviet struggle of the mujahedeen, including Osama bin Laden, in Afghanistan back in the 1980s; and Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISI, was the godfather of the Taliban (and remains, it seems, a supporter to this day). In September 2001, the Bush administration gave the country's coup-installed military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, the basic you're-either-with-us-or-against-us choice. He chose the "with" and in the course of these last years, under constant American pressure, has lost almost complete control over Pakistan's tribal regions along the Afghan border to various tribal groups, the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and other foreign jihadis, who have established bases there. Now, significant parts of the country are experiencing unrest in what looks increasingly like a countdown to chaos in a nuclear-armed nation.

Afghanistan: In the meantime, from those Pakistani base areas, the revived and rearmed Taliban (and their al-Qaeda partners) are preparing to launch a major spring offensive in Afghanistan, using tactics from the Iraq War (suicide bombers or "Mullah Omar's Missiles," as they call them, and the roadside bomb or IED). They are already capable of taking over southern Afghan districts for periods of time. The Bush administration used the Northern Alliance--that is, proxy Afghan forces--to take Kabul in November 2001. It then set up its bases and prisons and established President Hamid Karzai as the "mayor of Kabul," only to abandon the task of providing real security and beginning the genuine reconstruction of the country in order to invade Iraq. The rest of this particular horror story is, by now, reasonably well known. The country beyond booming Kabul remains impoverished and significantly in ruins; the population evidently ever more dissatisfied; the American and NATO air war ever more indiscriminate; and it is again the planet's largest producer of opium poppies and, as such, supplier of heroin. Over five years after its "liberation" from the Taliban, Afghanistan is a failed state, home to a successful guerrilla war by one of the most primitively fundamentalist movements on the planet, and a thriving narco-kingdom. It is only likely to get worse. For the first time, the possibility that, like the Russians before them, the Americans (and their NATO allies) could actually suffer defeat in that rugged land seems imaginable.

Iran: The country is a rising regional power, with enormous energy resources, and Shiite allies and allied movements of various sorts throughout the region, including in southern Iraq. But it also has an embattled, divided, fundamentalist government capable of rallying its disgruntled populace only with nationalism (call it, playing the American card). Energy-rich as it is, Iran also has a fractured, weakened economy, threatened with sanctions; and its major enemy, the Bush administration, is running a series of terror operations against it, while trying to cause dissension in its oil-rich minority regions. It is also deploying an unprecedented show of naval and air strength in the Persian Gulf. (An aircraft-carrier, the USS Nimitz, with its strike group, is now on its way to join the two carrier task forces already in place there.) In addition, the administration has threatened to launch a massive air assault on Iran's nuclear and other facilities. Though Iraq runs it a close race, Iran may be the single potentially most explosive hot spot in the arc of instability. In a nanosecond, it would be capable, under U.S. attack, or even some set of miscalculations on all sides, both of suffering grievous harm and of imposing enormous damage not just on American troops in Iraq, or on the oil economy of the region, but on the global economy as well.

Iraq: Do I need to say a word? Iraq is the poster-boy for the Bush administration's ability to turn whatever it touches into hell on Earth. In Iraq, the vaunted American military has been stopped in its tracks by a minority Sunni insurgency. (In recent weeks, however, the war there is threatening to turn into something larger, as the American military launches attacks on radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia.) Iraq now is the site of a religio-ethnic civil war of striking brutality, loosing waves of refugees within the country and on neighboring states; neighborhoods are being ethnically cleansed and deaths have reached into the hundreds of thousands. Amid all this, the occupying U.S. military fully controls only Baghdad's fortified citadel within a city, the Green Zone (and even there dangers are mounting) as well as a series of enormous, multibillion-dollar bases it has built around the country. Iraq is now essentially a failed state and the situation continues to devolve under the pressure of the President's latest "surge" plan. If that plan were to succeed, the citadel-state of the Green Zone would, at best, be turned into the city-state of Baghdad in a sea of chaos. Like Iran, Iraq has the potential to draw other states in the region into a widening civil-cum-religious-cum-terrorist war.

Israel/Palestine/Lebanon: From an early green light for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to join the Global War on Terror (against the Palestinians) to a green light for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to launch and continue a war against Hezbollah in Lebanon last summer, the Bush administration has largely green-lighted Israel these last years. It has also ignored or, in the case of the Lebanon War, purposely held back any possibility of serious peace talks. The provisional results are in. In Lebanon, the heavily populated areas of the Shiite south were strewn with Israeli cluster bombs, making some areas nearly uninhabitable; up to a quarter of the population was, for a time, turned into refugees; parts of Lebanese cities including Beirut were flattened by the Israeli air force; and yet Hezbollah was strengthened, the U.S.-backed Siniora government radically weakened, and the country drawn closer to a possible civil war. In the Palestinian areas, Bush administration democracy-promotion efforts ended with a Hamas electoral victory. Starved of foreign aid and having suffered further Israeli military assaults, the Palestinian population is ever more immiserated; Hamas and Fatah are at each other's throats; and the U.S.-backed President of the Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, is in a weakened position. In the wake of a disastrous war, Israel, with a government whose head has a 3% approval rate, is hardly the triumphant, dominant power in the Middle East that various Bush administration figures imagined once upon a time. This looks like another deteriorating situation with no end in sight.

Somalia (or Blackhawk Down, Round 2): In 2006, Director Porter Goss's CIA bet on a group of discredited Somali warlords, threw money and support behind them, and -- typically -- lost out to an Islamist militia that took most of the country and imposed relative peace on it for the first time in years. The ever proactive Bush administration then turned to the autocratic Ethiopian regime and its military (advised and armed by the U.S. with a helping hand from the North Koreans) to open "a new front" in the Global War on Terror. The Ethiopians promptly launched their own "preventive" invasion of Somalia (with modest U.S. air support), installed a government in the capital, Mogadishu, proclaimed victory over the Islamists, and -- giant surprise --promptly found themselves mired in an inter-clan civil war with Iraqi overtones. Today, Somalia, long a failed state and then, for a few months, almost a peaceful land (even if ruled by Islamists fundamentalists), is experiencing the worst fighting and death levels in 15 years. The new government in Mogadishu is shaky; their Ethiopian military supporters bloodied; over 1,000 civilians in the capital are dead or wounded, and tens of thousands of refugees are fleeing Mogadishu and crossing borders in a state of need. Rate it: a developing disaster -- with worse to come.

In short, from Somalia to Pakistan, the region that Bush administration officials, neocons supporters and allied pundits liked to call "the arc of instability" back in 2002-2003 is today a genuine arc of instability. It is filled with ever more failed states (Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine, which never even made it to statehood before collapse), possible future failed states (Lebanon, Pakistan), ever shakier autocracies (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan); and huge floods of refugees, internal and external (Somalia, Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan) as well as massively damaged areas (Afghanistan, Iraq, Gaza, Lebanon). It is also witnessing the growth of extremist and terrorist organizations and sentiments.

[Tomorrow, part 3 of this series: "A Rube Goldberg Instability Machine."]

Senators Expand Inquiry of Political Prosecutions

The question of whether any of the 85 U.S. Attorneys who were not fired by the Bush administration may have engaged in political prosecutions blew open Tuesday, when key members of the Senate Judiciary Committee demanded files pertaining to a botched prosecution in Wisconsin.

Committee chair Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, and five other senators have asked Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for documents dealing with the case of a Wisconsin state employee who was tried in a case that played out during the course of the 2006 gubernatorial race in that state. Republicans used the prosecution as part of a television attack campaign aimed at defeating Democratic Governor James Doyle.

U.S. Attorney Steven Biskupic obtained an election-season conviction of the state employee, Georgia Thompson, on charges that she steered a state contract to a Doyle donor. But a federal appeals court last week overturned that conviction with a stinging decision that complained about a lack of evidence. One of the appeals court judges said Biskupic's case was "beyond thin."

Biskupic, who also investigated Republican-pushed charges of "voter fraud," which proved to be without validity, was not one of the eight U.S. Attorneys fired by Gonzales in what appears to have been an attempt to purge prosecutors who refused to use their positions to advance the agenda of White House political czar Karl Rove and other GOP operative.

Rather, Biskupic was one of the 85 U.S. Attorneys who met the standards applied by Gonzales and the Bush White House.

At issue, of course, is what those standards required of the federal prosecutors who retained their jobs. Were they expected to conduct politicized prosecutions? More importantly, did any of them conduct prosecutions on a schedule designed to benefit Republican electoral prospects?

Leahy and his colleagues have begun the process of seeking answers to those questions, with a request for documents detailing communications between Biskupic and the White House and the Department of Justice, as well as information about communications between the Department of Justice and Republican political operatives concerning cases in Wisconsin.

In their letter, Leahy and New York Senator Chuck Schumer, California Senator Diane Feinstein, Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Wisconsin Senators Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl, explain that, "We are concerned whether or not politics may have played a role in a case brought by Steven Biskupic, the United States Attorney based in Milwaukee, against Georgia Thompson, formerly an official in the administration of Wisconsin's Democratic governor. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals was reportedly so troubled by the insufficiency of the evidence against Ms. Thompson that it made the unusual decision to issue an order reversing Ms. Thompson's conviction and releasing her from custody immediately after oral arguments in her appeal."

The request is significant for two reasons – one involving the Wisconsin case in particular, the other involving the broader direction of the Senate's inquiry into political prosecutions.

First, the senators know that there are documents in the possession of the Bush administration detailing the desire of Republicans in Wisconsin to have Biskupic pursue cases that matched their political agenda. Thus, this is not a fishing expedition, but rather a targeted request for memos that have already been confirmed to exist.

Second, the senators have clearly signaled their intent to take the committee's inquiry beyond the narrow confines of a discussion about the eight fired U.S. Attorneys. As they say in their letter, "One of the central issues in our investigation is whether the Department of Justice has improperly encouraged U.S. Attorneys to pursue, or to refrain from pursuing, politically sensitive cases."

What ought not be forgotten is that, while the Wisconsin case has blown up in recent days, concerns have also been raised about the politicization of prosecutions by sitting U.S. Attorneys in New Jersey and other states.

Ultimately, the big story of the scandal at the Department of Justice will not be that of the eight fired prosecutors. It will be that of the 85 who were not fired, and of what they did or did not do to keep their jobs.


John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

The Wall Comes Tumbling Down

Want to know what happens when the wall between church and state comes tumbling down? When -- as Ted Koppel recently said -- "ideological loyalty... is allowed to substitute for competence"? Check out this take by Boston Globe reporter Charlie Savage on the recent Attorneygate scandal and the goings-on at the Bush DOJ and other agencies…

Students vs. Sweatshops (Again)

This afternoon, students at University of Southern California began occupying their administration's offices. The action is part of a likely wave of sit-ins on the nation's campuses, as students are escalating a campaign for basic human rights for the workers, mostly young women, who make clothing bearing school logos. Seven years ago, a similar wave helped establish the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), the oversight group that students established, in cooperation with workers' advocates here and in the developing world, as an alternative to monitors controlled by the apparel industry. (I covered those protests for the Nation, and later in a book.)

Students at USC have been trying for eight years to get their school to affiliate with the WRC. 168 colleges and universities have done this, making USC quite a holdout on this issue. The USC students are also demanding that their university adopt the Designated Suppliers Program (DSP), a sensible system established by the Worker Rights Consortium to determine that collegiate clothing is made under decent conditions. The USC president, Steven Sample, has refused to meet with the students. "As students we learn in the classroom about global problems," says junior Carlo Catteneo Adorno. "It's disappointing that President Sample refuses to tackle such problems in the real world."

Students at University of Michigan -- my alma mater, so I'm proud of them-- occupied their president's office last week, also demanding that the University adopt the DSP. The students began this protest after several years of attempted "dialogue" with the administration on this issue. Instead of taking action to ensure that U-M clothing is not made under sweatshop conditions, President Mary Sue Coleman had the students arrested and forcibly removed from the building. Being a huge football school, U-M is obviously a significant player in the collegiate clothing industry, and it would make a big difference if its administration would finally embrace the DSP.

Several more sit-ins on this issue are expected before the end of the school year, according to Zack Knorr of United Students Against Sweatshops, unless the universities in question decide to avoid the bad publicity by doing the right thing.

Re-Occupying the Occupation

Supporters of the war in Iraq, like Senator John McCain, say the "surge" is making progress. That we must give General David Petraeus, a man who can seemingly do no wrong, time to make his plan work. But are additional troops really helping? Or is Baghdad simply becoming reoccupied--with disastrous results?

The NewsHour's Margaret Warner recently posed these questions to New York Times Iraq correspondent Ed Wong, who's analyzed the escalation. His answers were illuminating.

"There's no clear picture right now on what's going on with the surge," Wong said. "Basically, the picture is still one of massive violence throughout large parts of Iraq." Overall Iraqi casualties have not dropped. And casualties for US troops in Baghdad have doubled since the operation began seven weeks ago.

Wong went on a number of foot patrols with US and Kurdish soldiers throughout the city. Here's what he found:

What struck me was that a lot of the tactics that they were doing now were tried back in 2003 and in early 2004.

I mean, back then, you couldn't go anywhere in Baghdad without encountering American convoys, without seeing American soldiers on the corners. They were everywhere throughout the city. It definitely felt like an occupied city at that point.

Then, the American military started pulling back into these big bases, and that was when sectarian violence really exploded. And now they're trying to get back out into the neighborhoods again.

So I watched these American soldiers talking to families, trying to go into living rooms, gather intelligence from the families. And in many cases, it seemed a little bit awkward to me. There was this disconnect, I think, partly because of language, partly because the soldiers walked in with so many weapons and so much armor.

And here you have these Iraqi families there who were finishing dinner or trying to settle in for the night. These soldiers come in. They asked them about activity in the neighborhoods. And then the families looked a little nervous, and then the soldiers would leave.

Doesn't sound like a recipe for success.

What's Right with Maryland

Justice Louis Brandeis once said, "It is one of the happy accidents of the federal system that a single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory, and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country." The Maryland General Assembly has taken advantage of this "happy accident" to pass a National Popular Vote bill and is expected to pass a Living Wage bill today as well.

Maryland State Senator and Nation contributor Jamie Raskin told me, "We passed the National Popular Vote bill in the General Assembly by mobilizing the essential democratic principles: the person with the most votes for president should win the office and every citizen's vote should count equally regardless of geography or time zone…. And with the Living Wage bill we have said that the state government should not be a neutral umpire in the economy but an active instrument for lifting people out of grinding poverty into at least the modestly secure working class. The gap between the minimum wage and the actual living wage is an index of shame, which we are about to close in Maryland."

The National Popular Vote bill calls for awarding Maryland's 10 electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote instead of the winner of the state vote. It only takes effect when states representing a majority of votes in the Electoral College agree to join a binding National Popular Vote compact. The movement is being led by the National Popular Vote campaign and it has over 300 sponsoring legislators in 47 states. Other organizations involved in the effort include: FairVote, Progressive States Network, Asian American Action Fund, National Black Caucus of State Legislators, National Latino Congreso, Common Cause, and such former Members of Congress as Republicans Tom Campbell and Jake Garn, independent John Anderson, and Democrat Birch Bayh.

According to Rob Richie and Ryan O'Donnell of FairVote, "Under the Constitution, states have exclusive power – indeed have responsibility – to award their electors to reflect the interests of their people." Like Maryland, Hawaii also passed its National Popular Vote bill and so have single chambers in Arkansas and Colorado. Last year, California passed its own version but it was vetoed by The Terminator. Richie reports that establishing a national popular vote is supported by 70 percent of the public according to polls. "This should be no surprise," Richie and O'Donnell write. "The current system makes most Americans irrelevant in electing their most powerful elected office."

"[Maryland], like the two-thirds of all states consigned to the safe red or blue column, has been reduced to ‘spectator' status in presidential elections," Raskin said. "… I believe that Maryland and now Hawaii can kick off an insurrection of the spectator states to demand a truly national presidential campaign instead of this debased division and polarization of red and blue states, a process which depresses turnout and participation."

Richie points out that in 2004, voter turnout was 8 percent higher in battleground states than non-battlegrounds and "fully 17 percent higher among young adults – a division only to grow in future elections with presidential campaign activity limited to battlegrounds…." And Richie and O'Donnell note, "The presidential campaigns and their allies spent more money on ads in Florida in the final month of the campaign than their combined spending in 46 other states." Raskin adds, "In the last two [presidential] elections, 99 percent of campaign dollars and candidate visits were spent in 16 battleground states and two-thirds of the money and appearances in just five key ones like Ohio and Florida."

"By strengthening the voting power of all Americans and treating all voters equally," Richie says, "the National Popular Vote plan is based on two of the key pillars of lasting reform: equality and universality."

Maryland's Living Wage Bill will have a lasting impact as well. "It's going to lift tens of thousands of Marylanders out of poverty," Delegate Tom Hucker told the Washington Post. "It makes Maryland a leader in ensuring that our tax dollars are helping build the middle class rather than perpetuating poverty."

And it's not just Democrats who are doing the work of small-d democrats. Florida's Republican Governor, Charlie Crist, has fulfilled his campaign promise to work towards restoring voting rights for convicted felons in his state despite the fact that it will add "tens of thousands of Democratic voters to the rolls -- possibly pushing a House seat or two into the blue column" and helping any Democratic presidential nominee. (Maryland's General Assembly has also acted to secure voting rights for more people with felony convictions and Governor Martin O'Malley is leaning towards signing the bill. Richie says that O'Malley – the only challenger to defeat an incumbent governor in last year's elections – has been instrumental in spurring progressive change by promising to sign such legislation as this.)

These actions by the Maryland General Assembly and the action of a Republican Governor serve as reminders that what Nation article John Nichols wrote in a 2003 still holds true: "… some of the most important fights – for affordable healthcare, education, environmental protection and clean politics – are taking place beyond the Beltway. Often there is far more space for debate on these issues, and more opportunities for victory, in statehouses… Thus, while it is essential to battle Bush and his minions in Washington, it is equally essential to understand that the road to renewal may well run through the states."

Bush's Absurdist Imperialism

One night when I was in my teens, I found myself at a production of Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author. I had never heard of the playwright or the play, nor had I seen a play performed in the round. The actors were dramatically entering and exiting in the aisles when, suddenly, a man stood up in the audience, proclaimed himself a seventh character in search of an author, and demanded the same attention as the other six. At the time, I assumed the unruly "seventh character" was just part of the play, even after he was summarily ejected from the theater.

Now, bear with me a moment here. Back in 2002-2003, officials in the Bush administration, their neocon supporters, and allied media pundits, basking in all their Global War on Terror glory, were eager to talk about the region extending from North Africa through the Middle East, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan right up to the Chinese border as an "arc of instability." That arc coincided with the energy heartlands of the planet and what was needed to "stabilize" it, to keep those energy supplies flowing freely (and in the right directions), was clear enough to them. The "last superpower," the greatest military force in history, would simply have to put its foot down and so bring to heel the "rogue" powers of the region. The geopolitical nerve would have to be mustered to stamp a massive "footprint"--to use a Pentagon term of the time--in the middle of that vast, valuable region. Also needed was the nerve not just to lob a few cruise missiles in the direction of Baghdad, but to offer such an imposing demonstration of American shock-and-awe power that those "rogues"--Iraq, Syria, Iran (Hezbollah, Hamas)--would be cowed into submission, along with uppity U.S. allies like oil-rich Saudi Arabia.

It would, in fact, be necessary--in another of those bluntly descriptive words of the era--to "decapitate" resistant regimes. This would be the first order of business for the planet's lone "hyperpower," now that it had been psychologically mobilized by the attacks of September 11, 2001. After all, what other power on Earth was capable of keeping the uncivilized parts of the planet from descending into failed-state, all-against-all warfare and dragging us (and our energy supplies) down with them?

Mind you, on September 11, 2001, as those towers went down, that arc of instability wasn't exactly a paragon of… well, instability. Yes, on one end was Somalia, a failed state, and on the other, impoverished, rubble-strewn Afghanistan, largely Taliban-ruled (and al-Qaeda encamped); while in-between Saddam Hussein's Iraq was a severely weakened nation with a suffering populace, but the "arc" was wracked by no great wars, no huge surges of refugees, no striking levels of destruction. Not particularly pleasant autocracies, some of a fundamentalist religious nature, were the rule of the day. Oil flowed (at about $23 a barrel); the Israeli-Palestinian conflict simmered uncomfortably; and, all in all, it wasn't a pretty picture, nor a particularly democratic one, nor one in which, if you were an inhabitant of most of these lands, you could expect a fair share of justice or a stunningly good life.

Still, the arc of instability, as a name, was then more prediction than reality. And it was a prediction--soon enough to become self-fulfilling prophesy--on which George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and all those neocons in the Pentagon readily staked careers and reputations. As a crew, already dazzled by American military power and its potential uses, such a bet undoubtedly looked like a sure winner, like betting with the house in a three-card monte scheme. They would just give the arc what it needed--a few intense doses of cruise-missile and B-1 bomber medicine, and some "regime-change"-style injections of further instability. It was to be, as Andrew Bacevich has written, "an experiment in creative destruction."

First Afghanistan, then Iraq. Both pushovers. How could the mightiest force on the planet lose to such puny powers? As a start, you would wage a swift air-war/proxy-war/Special-Forces war/dollar-war in one of the most backward places on the planet. Your campaign would be against an ill-organized, ill-armed, ragtag enemy. You would follow that by thrusting into the soft, military underbelly of the Middle East and taking out the hollow armed forces of Saddam Hussein in a "cakewalk."

Next, with your bases set up in Afghanistan and Iraq on either side of Iran--and Pakistan, also bordering Iran, in hand--what would it take to run some increasingly unpopular mullahs out of Tehran? Meanwhile, Syria, another weakened, wobbly state divided against itself, now hemmed by militarily powerful Israel and American-occupied Iraq would be a pushover. In each of these lands, you would end up with an American-friendly government, run by some figure like the Pentagon's favorite Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi; and, voilà! (okay, they wouldn't have used French), a Middle East made safe for Israel and for American domination. You would, in short, have your allies in Europe and Japan as well as your possible future enemies, Russia and China, by the throat in an increasingly energy-starved world.

Certainly, many of the top officials of the Bush administration and their neocon allies, dreaming of just such an orderly, American-dominated "Greater Middle East," were ready to settle for a little chaos in the process. If a weakened Iraq broke into several parts; or, say, the oil-rich Shiite areas of Saudi Arabia happened to fall off that country, well, too bad. They'd deal.

Little did they know.

The Tin Touch

Here's the remarkable thing: All the Bush administration had to do was meddle in any country in that arc of instability (and which one didn't it meddle in?), for actual instability, often chaos, sometimes outright disaster to set in. It's been quite a record, the very opposite of an imperial golden touch.

And, on any given day, you can see the evidence of this on a case by case basis in your local paper or on the TV news. But what you never see is all those crises and potential crises discussed in one place--without which the magnitude of the present disaster and the dangers in our future are hard to grasp.

Few in the mainstream world have even tried to put them all together since the Bush administration rolled back the media, essentially demobilizing it in 2001-2002, at which point its journalists and pundits simply stopped connecting the dots. Give the Bush administration credit: Its top officials took in the world as a whole and at an imperial glance. They regularly connected the dots as they saw them. The post-9/11 strike at Afghanistan was never simply a strike at al-Qaeda (or the Taliban who hosted them). It was always a prelude to war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq. And the invasion of Iraq was never meant to end in Baghdad (as indicated in the neocon pre-war quip, "Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran"). Nor was Tehran to be the end of the line.

Under the rubric of the "Global War on Terror," they were considering dozens of countries as potential future targets. Dick Cheney put the matter bluntly back in August 2002 as the public drumbeat for an invasion of Iraq was just revving up:

"The war in Afghanistan is only the beginning of a lengthy campaign, Cheney noted. 'Were we to stop now, any sense of security we might have would be false and temporary… There is a terrorist underworld out there spread among more than 60 countries.'"

Almost immediately after the 9/11 attacks, they began stitching together the arc of instability in their minds with an eye not so much to Arabs, or South Asians, or even Israelis, but to playing their version of what the British imperialists used to call "the Great Game." They had the rollback of energy-giant Russia in mind as well as the containment or rollback of potential future imperial power, China, already visibly desperate for Iraqi, Iranian, and other energy supplies. In the year before the invasion of Iraq, they were remarkably blunt about this. They proudly published that seminal document of the Bush era, the National Security Strategy of the United States of America, 2002, which called for the U.S. to "build and maintain" its military power on the planet "beyond challenge."

Think about that for a moment. A single power on Earth "beyond challenge." This was a dream of planetary dominion that once would have been left to madmen. But in what looked like a world with only one Great Power, it was easy enough to imagine a Great Game with only one great player, an arms race with only one swift runner.

The Bush administration was essentially calling for a world in which no superpower, or bloc of powers, would ever be allowed to challenge this country's supremacy. As the President put it in an address at West Point in 2002, "America has, and intends to keep, military strengths beyond challenge, thereby making the destabilizing arms races of other eras pointless, and limiting rivalries to trade and other pursuits of peace." The National Security Strategy put the same thought this way: "Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States." That's anywhere on the planet. Ever. And the President and his followers promptly began to hike the Pentagon budget to suit their oversized, military fantasies of what an American "footprint" should be.

With this in mind, the arc of instability, which, in energy-flow terms, was quite literally the planet's heartland, seemed the place to control. And yet, you're unlikely to find a single piece in your daily paper that takes in that arc. To take but one obvious example, the rise of Iran (and a possible "Shiite crescent"), Iran's influence or interference in Iraq, Iran's nuclear program, and Iran's off-the-wall president have been near obsessions in our media; and yet, you would be hard-pressed to find a piece even pointing out that the Bush administration's two invasions and occupations--Iraq and Afghanistan--which left both those countries bristling with vast American bases and sprawling American-controlled prison systems, took place on either side of Iran. Add in the fact that the Bush administration, probably through the CIA, is essentially running terror raids into Iran through Pakistan and you have a remarkably different vision of Iran's geostrategic situation than even an informed American media consumer would normally see.

After September 11, 2001, but based on the sort of pre-2001 thinking you could find well represented at the neocon website Project for the New American Century, the Bush administration's top officials wrote their own drama for the arc of instability. They were, of course, the main characters in it, along with the U.S. military, some Afghan and Iraqi exiles who would play their necessary roles in the "liberation" of their countries, and a few evil ogres like Saddam Hussein.

Today, not six years after they raised the curtain on what was to be their grand imperial drama, they find themselves in a dark theater with at least six crises in search of an author, all clamoring for attention--and every possibility that a seventh (not to say a seventeenth) "character" in that rowdy, still gathering, audience may soon rise to insist on a part in the horrific farce that has actually taken place.

[Note: This is the first of three parts. Tomorrow: The Six Crises.]

Which US Attorneys Did Rove's Bidding?

The real story of the U.S. Attorneys scandal that has so endangered the tenure of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is not that of the eight fired prosecutors. It is that of the 85 U.S. Attorneys around the country who were not let go.

There is mounting evidence that the Bush administration was pressuring U.S. attorneys to politicize their prosecutions prior to the 2006 elections, on the apparent theory that stirring up trouble for Democrats in battleground states might ease concerns about abuses by White House aides, former House Majority Leader Tom Delay, former California Congressman Duke Cunningham and the various and sundry GOP solons who had been linked to no-longer-so-super lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

And it certainly looks as if some of the U.S. Attorneys who refused to bow to the pressure to mount prosecutions that might embarrass Democrats were removed from their positions because of their regard for the rule of law.

But what about the U.S. Attorneys who were not fired?

Did they agree to mount political prosecutions in order to keep their jobs? Were they reliably partisan enough to secure White House political czar Karl Rove approval?

Did they act on that partisanship in their official duties?

These are the question of the moment in a number of states, most notably Wisconsin.

Wisconsin is the ultimate battleground state in presidential politics, an almost evenly-divided jurisdiction where the Bush-Gore race of 2000 was decided by barely 5,000 votes and the Bush-Kerry race of 2004 was decided by only a little more than 10,000. Gearing up for 2008, Republicans wanted very much to replace Democratic Governor Jim Doyle, whose control of the state's top job, it was thought, had helped Kerry secure his narrow victory in 2004.

As the 2006 gubernatorial election approached, Doyle appeared to be in solid shape. Then he was linked to a nasty pay-to-play politics scandal. Steven Biskupic, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, aggressively pursued an investigation of whether political considerations had influenced the awarding of a state travel contract to a Doyle donor.

As the election approached, Biskupic secured the conviction of state employee Georgia Thompson, who was charged with steering the contract to the donor's firm. More prosecutions were reportedly in the offering. Republicans had a field day. They mounted an expensive television ad campaign linking Doyle to the "scandal."

When Democrats criticized Biskupic for pressing what appeared to be a shaky case against Thompson on a schedule that paralleled that of the 2006 gubernatorial race, their arguments were dismissed as nothing more than political spin. Yes, of course, Biskupic was a Republican, with family ties to the state party and friendly relations with the Bush White House. Yes, he had investigated supposed "vote fraud" cases pushed by the state and national GOP, even though the investigations came to nothing. But few independent observers could believe that a career prosecutor would abuse his position for political purposes.

After Doyle was easily reelected in what turned out to be a strong Democratic year, Georgia Thompson was whisked off to a federal prison in Illinois. Biskupic's actions pre-election prosecution of the woman, while suspect to some, was generally accepted as an accident of timing.

Now, however, the complaints about Biskupic's election-season execution of a case involving a Democratic governor in a battleground state are being seen in a new light.

Last week, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled that Thompson, a former state purchasing supervisor, had been wrongly convicted of making sure a state travel contract went to a firm linked to Doyle's re-election campaign.

The judges declared that Thompson was innocent.

They ordered her immediate release from prison.

And they went out of their way to criticize Biskupic's case against the state employee, with Federal Judge Diane Wood saying "the evidence is beyond thin."

The question that arises, at a point when the U.S. House and U.S. Senate judiciary committees are investigating efforts by the Bush administration, Republican members of Congress and GOP operatives to get U.S. attorneys around the country to engage in political prosecutions designed to harm Democrats as the election approached, is whether Biskupic aggressively pursued a case built on evidence that was "beyond thin" in order to assist Republican electoral prospects.

The circumstances surrounding the Thompson prosecution, when seen in the context of the known pressures on U.S. attorneys to conduct political prosecutions, require nothing less. And it happens that Wisconsin's senators, both of whom serve on the Judiciary Committee, are in a position to press the matter. But it should not fall only to Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl to question members of the Bush administration about any and all contacts with Biskupic, and make similar inquiries regarding efforts by current and former Republican Party officials in Wisconsin and nationally to pressure the U.S. Attorney's office.

And the questioning ought not end at the Wisconsin line. As the New York Times noted April 9, in an editorial, "Another Layer of Scandal": "Ms. Thompson's case is not the only one raising questions about whether prosecutors tried last year to tilt close elections toward the Republicans. New Jersey's federal prosecutor conducted an investigation of weak-looking allegations against Senator Robert Menendez that was used in Republican ads."

The bottom line should be clear: The investigation into the politicization of prosecutions by the Bush administration needs to expand dramatically. As this happens, there is good reason to believe that the firings of the eight U.S. Attorneys that have to now been so much in the news may turn out to be the lesser scandals brought to light by an inquiry that could yet be the most damning of Bush's presidency.


John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"