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Left on K?

If Democrats regain the House or Senate in November, will the lobbyist-industrial complex known as K Street turn left or lose business?

The answer: yes, a little, but no, not much.

K Street has boomed under George W. Bush. Today there are twice as many registered lobbyists, 30,000, as there were six years ago. Every $1 million spent on lobbying, estimates the Carmen Group, reaps $100 million in government rewards.

Naturally certain industries, such as oil and pharmaceutical companies, may get fewer handouts if Republicans lose Congress. But many lobbyists are prepping for a smooth transition. Major lobbying firms are courting Democrats and vice versa. Odds are, K Street will only continue to grow.

In a great Washington Post story on Sunday, Jeffrey Birnbaum examined the many reasons why. "Now, more than ever," he writes, lobbyists are "a permanent and pervasive force in Washington."

Following the Jack Abramoff scandal, Congress couldn't even pass a toothless bill aimed at cleaning up the most odious forms of institutional corruption.

Republicans are mostly to blame for the death of lobbying reform. But both parties have helped lobbyists thrive. If Democrats don't challenge K Street, they'll only encourage it.

Bushwa by the Numbers

Call President Bush (and his speechwriters) linguistically resolute, but five years later whatever has changed in our world, nothing much has changed in the fearful world of Bushword, not by the numbers anyway.

On September 20, 2001, just nine days after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the President addressed a joint session of Congress and set the tone for everything that was to follow. Here's just a very partial sample by word use of that speech and the world it painted:

Terror, terrorists - 33
War -12
Attack - 8
Fight - 7
Threat, threaten - 5
Murder, murderous - 4
Enemies – 3
Struggle - 3
Kill - 3
God - 3
Evil - 2
Violence - 2
Extremism (Islamic) - 1

In his 9/11 anniversary address to the nation last night, the President's first paragraph set the familiar word choice tone. Here were the key words: "… attacked us… barbarity unequaled… murdered… made war… not yet safe… the threat…"

You could, in fact, have taken that five year-old speech, shaken the words up, and simply dropped them randomly into last night's speech (which was a few hundred words shorter), with about the same effect. Here's a fuller count from last night of almost exactly the same set of words, painting almost the same terrifying picture of our world:

Terror (terrorists) - 17
Enemies - 14
War (on terror, Cold, Third World, upon the entire free world, clouds of) - 13
Attack - 13
Extremists (global network of, movement, ideology) - 6
Fight, fighting - 6
Threat - 6
Defeat - 5
Radicalism, radical (Islamic empire, dictators) - 5
Struggle (for civilization, between tyranny and freedom) - 4
Kill (without mercy, our citizens) - 3
Evil (face of) - 3
God - 3
Violence - 3
Weapons (of mass destruction, nuclear) - 3
Suffering - 2
Destruction, destroy (our way of life) - 2
Hate, hateful - 2
Risk - 2
Offensive, offense - 2
Battle - 2
And singletons of: Dangerous, aggression, firepower, arsenal, totalitarian, horror, conflict, death, tyranny, murder, fear, barbarity.

Between the two moments and speeches, so much had changed in the world, so little in the words. Some of the phrases were simple repeats. The soaring other side -- "courage," "freedom," etc. -- of the President's Manichaean world remained almost untouched (with the exception of a single uncharacteristically florid phrase, "…when the people of the Middle East leave the desert of despotism for the fertile gardens of liberty…") as did the linguistic line-up meant to indicate what a commander-in-chief presidency can do to save us from the vision of hell on Earth he always paints ("safe," "protect," "defend," "homeland").

True, "evil" had tied "God" in the word count five years later, but essentially the President has never stopped peddling the same Bushwa. The only real question is: Are Americans still taking it in?

Pushing Democrats in an Antiwar Direction

There are plenty of anti-war Democrats running in today's primary elections in states across the country. There are even a few anti-war Republicans -- mostnotably Rhode Island Senator Lincoln Chafee. But few have done a better jobthan John Sarbanes, a frontrunner for an open U.S. House seat representingMaryland's 3rd District, of articulating the position that the oppositionparty should be taking with regard to George Bush's war.

While he asserts that, "It is long overdue for the Bush Administration toprovide Congress and the American people with a concrete plan for bringingour troops home," Sarbanes pulls no punches with regard to his own party.

"The Democratic leadership in Congress must take action immediately – thatmeans today – by petitioning the President to deliver to the appropriatecommittees in Congress within thirty days two proposed disengagement plansfor Iraq: one that would bring our troops home within six months; the otherthat would bring them home within twelve months," says Sarbanes, a lawyerwho is the son of retiring U.S. Senator Paul Sarbanes. "In making thisrequest, Democrats should make it clear that they will use all substantiveand procedural leverage available to them to force delivery of the plans,including resisting the President's budget priorities. As long as thePentagon and the Defense Department resist providing concrete scenarios fordisengaging our troops, it is impossible to evaluate the risks and benefitsof any particular course of action. The Bush Administration must get itshead out of the Iraqi sand and offer the American people a meaningful planfor bringing our troops home."

Bluntly rejecting the charge that supporters of a withdrawal timeline want to"cut-and-run," Sarbanes argues that a timeline is essential to getting theIraqis to stand up so that Americans can stand down. "Setting a timetablefor disengagement of our troops will send a clear message to the members ofthe Iraqi parliament, and will force them to make the compromises necessaryto govern, and that they must do so quickly," argues Sarbanes.

"Thatrequirement is inherent in our request that the Bush Administration delivera six-month and twelve-month disengagement proposal," he adds. "In the past threeyears, there have been three elections in Iraq. Despite this fact, theIraqis have yet to create a functional government. Although the Iraqiselected a parliament in January, the various ethnic groups within theparliament will have to make many difficult compromises in order toestablish a stable government that is responsive to the needs of the Iraqipeople. Their recent selection of a prime minister is a positivedevelopment, although we cannot overlook the fact that it took theparliament over four months to accomplish this task. The Iraqi parliamentmust exhibit a greater sense of urgency in standing up an effectivegovernment. Iraqi officials are less likely to do so if they believe thatU.S. troops are going to remain in Iraq in large numbers for the foreseeablefuture."

Sarbanes is not the only anti-war contender in the race to replace U.S.Representative Ben Cardin, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for Maryland's open Senate seat. For instance, another leading contender, state Senator PaulaHollinger calls the war "a catastrophic failure" and promises to "hold theBush administration accountable for its actions." Complaining that, "inspite of the incompetence of the Bush administration, Congress continues todefer to the White House on the war," Hollinger pledges to call "forhearings to investigate the abuses of power perpetrated by the Bushadministration and for the firing of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld."

It is his determination to light a fire under own party thatdistinguishes Sarbanes. This year is likely to produce a number of new Democraticmembers of the House, and many of them will promise to challenge PresidentBush, Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. But anyonewho has watched Congress over the past five years understands that, beforethe Bush administration can be held accountable, the Democrats have todecide to operate as an opposition party. Only when Democrats have thewisdom and the courage to articulate a clear anti-war position will they begin to steer the debate in Washington. Sarbanes gets credit forrecognizing this.

Keep an eye on how he does today if you want a sense of whether a Democratic takeover of the House this fall will lead to a genuine course correction -- for the party and the country.

Keep an eye, as well, on some of the many other races where anti-warmessages are in play. Some of the most interesting of these include:

* The Maryland Senate race, where former NAACP executive director Kweisi Mfume hasbeen far more aggressive in his opposition to the war than Cardin. Mfume's focus on the cost of the war is especially noteworthy. "The billions ofdollars being spent to wage this war continue to distort our priorities anddrain our economy of much needed resources," the former congressman argues. "We don't everseem to have the money that we need when it comes to driving down the costof health care or driving up the quality of our public schools, because weare throwing so much of it into this war."

* Maryland's 4th Congressional District, where veteran activist DonnaEdwards has come on strong at the close of her Democratic primary challengeto complacent incumbent Albert Wynn. With fresh endorsements from theWashington Post, the major newspaper in the district, and the region'sTeamsters, Edwards is clearly credible. And she is closing with a stronganti-war message in a race against a Democrat who she blisters for "castinghis lot with Bush and the Republicans on such critical issues as Iraq..."

* Minnesota's 5th Congressional District, where Democrat OlavMartin Sabo is retiring. Several of the candidates in the crowded Democraticprimary have articulated anti-war positions. Of the frontrunners, the mostaggressive is state Representative Keith Ellison, who says, "I am callingfor an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. I opposed the warbefore it began; I was against this war once it started and I am the onlycandidate calling for an immediate withdrawal of troops."

* Arizona's 8th Congressional District, where Republican incumbent Jim Kolbeis stepping down. The Democratic field is crowded and Jeff Latas lacks the funding and the name recognition of several of the other candidates. But the retired Air Force fighter pilot is a compelling contender. The recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross for Heroism, four Air Medals, four Meritorious Service Medals, and nine Aerial Achievement Medals, and the father of an Iraq War vet, Latas says:

The Army sent my 19-year-old son to boot camp for three months, and thento truck driver school for two months, and then declared him fully trainedto risk his life for Iraq. Yet in 3 years, they have trained only one out of15 battalions of Iraqi soldiers to defend their own country.Something isn't right about that. It is time for us to leave Iraq to theIraqi people.

I support:

* Bringing the troops home as quickly as possible. The Murtha Plan is our bestoption. We need to reposition our forces out of Iraq, create a quickreaction force stationed nearby to deal with crises that will arise, and weneed to emphasize the use of diplomacy over the use of force.

* Recognizing that we should never have put ourselves in the position ofnation-building, but now that we have destroyed the previous governmentalstructure, we should shift responsibility for assisting the Iraqis from theDefense Department to the State Department, an agency far better equipped todeal with these tasks

* Regaining the trust of other nations with a goal of at least returning tothe state of confidence and good will that existed immediately after 9/11

* Working within the United Nations and NATO to build alliances to deal withcontinuing challenges in the Middle East, especially the immediate problemof how to deal with Iran's growing nuclear capability

* Insisting on separation of powers and the responsibility of Congress fordeclarations of war. Congress must never again give the President blanketauthority to go to do what he deems necessary and then be required toallocate funds to support troops that the President has sent to war.

Latas is one of a number of candidates in today's primaries who are endorsed by Progressive Democrats of America, the party's most energetic anti-war pressure group. Others include: Arizona congressional candidates Herb Paine and Mike Caccioppoli and incumbent Raul Grijalva, a PDA advisory board member; New York congressional candidates John Hall and Chris Owens; and Rhode Island U.S. Senate candidate Carl Sheeler. Maryland candidates Mfume and Edwards are also backed by PDA. While many of these contenders face tough races, none has taken on a more daunting task than PDA-endorsed candidate Jonathan Tasini.

Tasini's opponent in today's New York Democratic Senate primary, Hillary Clinton, has all the advantages of incumbency, celebrity and her vaunted fund-raising prowess. All Tasini has is his position on the war. "My position is a responsible one," says Tasini, "the troops must be brought home now. It is the best solution for our country and for Iraq. I reject the myths that have been promoted against proponents of withdrawal." Locked out of the debates and afforded scant coverage by the media, Tasini has still been a factor in forcing Clinton to moderate what had been a militantly pro-war stance. No matter what vote hegets today, his candidacy will has played a role in moving the Democratic Party toward the opposition position that it must assert if it is to gain the upper hand in this year's political debate and the Congress that will be chosen in November.

"We Have Not Forgotten, Mr. President."

Keith Olbermann is without a doubt the best news anchor on television today. Two weeks ago, echoing the spirit of the legendary Edward R. Murrow, Olbermann took Donald Rumsfeld to task for comparing critics of the Iraq war to Nazi appeasers. Tonight, broadcasting live from above a desolate and still demolished Ground Zero, Olbermann delivered a stirring eight minute commentary indicting the Bush Administration's shameful and tragic response to 9/11. The entire speech is worth watching and reading, so I'm posting the full text below.

Half a lifetime ago, I worked in this now-empty space. And for 40 days after the attacks, I worked here again, trying to make sense of what happened, and was yet to happen, as a reporter.

All the time, I knew that the very air I breathed contained the remains of thousands of people, including four of my friends, two in the planes and -- as I discovered from those "missing posters" seared still into my soul -- two more in the Towers.

And I knew too, that this was the pyre for hundreds of New York policemen and firemen, of whom my family can claim half a dozen or more, as our ancestors.

I belabor this to emphasize that, for me this was, and is, and always shall be, personal.

And anyone who claims that I and others like me are "soft,"or have "forgotten" the lessons of what happened here is at best a grasping, opportunistic, dilettante and at worst, an idiot whether he is a commentator, or a Vice President, or a President.

However, of all the things those of us who were here five years ago could have forecast -- of all the nightmares that unfolded before our eyes, and the others that unfolded only in our minds -- none of us could have predicted this.

Five years later this space is still empty.

Five years later there is no memorial to the dead.

Five years later there is no building rising to show with proud defiance that we would not have our America wrung from us, by cowards and criminals.

Five years later this country's wound is still open.

Five years later this country's mass grave is still unmarked.

Five years later this is still just a background for a photo-op.

It is beyond shameful.

At the dedication of the Gettysburg Memorial -- barely four months after the last soldier staggered from another Pennsylvania field -- Mr. Lincoln said, "we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract."

Lincoln used those words to immortalize their sacrifice.

Today our leaders could use those same words to rationalize their reprehensible inaction. "We cannot dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground." So we won't.

Instead they bicker and buck pass. They thwart private efforts, and jostle to claim credit for initiatives that go nowhere. They spend the money on irrelevant wars, and elaborate self-congratulations, and buying off columnists to write how good a job they're doing instead of doing any job at all.

Five years later, Mr. Bush, we are still fighting the terrorists on these streets. And look carefully, sir, on these 16 empty acres. The terrorists are clearly, still winning.

And, in a crime against every victim here and every patriotic sentiment you mouthed but did not enact, you have done nothing about it.

And there is something worse still than this vast gaping hole in this city, and in the fabric of our nation. There is its symbolism of the promise unfulfilled, the urgent oath, reduced to lazy execution.

The only positive on 9/11 and the days and weeks that so slowly and painfully followed it was the unanimous humanity, here, and throughout the country. The government, the President in particular, was given every possible measure of support.

Those who did not belong to his party -- tabled that.

Those who doubted the mechanics of his election -- ignored that.

Those who wondered of his qualifications -- forgot that.

History teaches us that nearly unanimous support of a government cannot be taken away from that government by its critics. It can only be squandered by those who use it not to heal a nation's wounds, but to take political advantage.

Terrorists did not come and steal our newly-regained sense of being American first, and political, fiftieth. Nor did the Democrats. Nor did the media. Nor did the people.

The President -- and those around him -- did that.

They promised bi-partisanship, and then showed that to them, "bi-partisanship" meant that their party would rule and the rest would have to follow, or be branded, with ever-escalating hysteria, as morally or intellectually confused, as appeasers, as those who, in the Vice President's words yesterday, "validate the strategy of the terrorists."

They promised protection, and then showed that to them "protection" meant going to war against a despot whose hand they had once shaken, a despot who we now learn from our own Senate Intelligence Committee, hated al-Qaida as much as we did.

The polite phrase for how so many of us were duped into supporting a war, on the false premise that it had 'something to do' with 9/11 is "lying by implication."

The impolite phrase is "impeachable offense."

Not once in now five years has this President ever offered to assume responsibility for the failures that led to this empty space, and to this, the current, curdled, version of our beloved country.

Still, there is a last snapping flame from a final candle of respect and fairness: even his most virulent critics have never suggested he alone bears the full brunt of the blame for 9/11.

Half the time, in fact, this President has been so gently treated, that he has seemed not even to be the man most responsible for anything in his own administration.

Yet what is happening this very night?

A mini-series, created, influenced -- possibly financed by -- the most radical and cold of domestic political Machiavellis, continues to be televised into our homes.

The documented truths of the last fifteen years are replaced by bald-faced lies; the talking points of the current regime parroted; the whole sorry story blurred, by spin, to make the party out of office seem vacillating and impotent, and the party in office, seem like the only option.

How dare you, Mr. President, after taking cynical advantage of the unanimity and love, and transmuting it into fraudulent war and needless death, after monstrously transforming it into fear and suspicion and turning that fear into the campaign slogan of three elections? How dare you -- or those around you -- ever "spin" 9/11?

Just as the terrorists have succeeded -- are still succeeding -- as long as there is no memorial and no construction here at Ground Zero.

So, too, have they succeeded, and are still succeeding as long as this government uses 9/11 as a wedge to pit Americans against Americans.

This is an odd point to cite a television program, especially one from March of 1960. But as Disney's continuing sell-out of the truth (and this country) suggests, even television programs can be powerful things.

And long ago, a series called "The Twilight Zone" broadcast a riveting episode entitled "The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street."

In brief: a meteor sparks rumors of an invasion by extra-terrestrials disguised as humans. The electricity goes out. A neighbor pleads for calm. Suddenly his car -- and only his car -- starts. Someone suggests he must be the alien. Then another man's lights go on. As charges and suspicion and panic overtake the street, guns are inevitably produced. An "alien" is shot -- but he turns out to be just another neighbor, returning from going for help. The camera pulls back to a near-by hill, where two extra-terrestrials are seen manipulating a small device that can jam electricity. The veteran tells his novice that there's no need to actually attack, that you just turn off a few of the human machines and then, "they pick the most dangerous enemy they can find, and it's themselves."

And then, in perhaps his finest piece of writing, Rod Serling sums it up with words of remarkable prescience, given where we find ourselves tonight: "The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices, to be found only in the minds of men.

"For the record, prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy, and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all its own -- for the children, and the children yet unborn."

When those who dissent are told time and time again -- as we will be, if not tonight by the President, then tomorrow by his portable public chorus -- that he is preserving our freedom, but that if we use any of it, we are somehow un-American...When we are scolded, that if we merely question, we have "forgotten the lessons of 9/11"... look into this empty space behind me and the bi-partisanship upon which this administration also did not build, and tell me:

Who has left this hole in the ground?

We have not forgotten, Mr. President.

You have.

May this country forgive you.

The Path From 9-11

Now that ABC/Disney has broadcast a docudrama rife with lies about what a different administration did before 9-11, let's demand that ABC use the public airwaves to tell the facts about lies this administration told the people after 9-11.

I think the just-released Senate Intelligence report -- chronicling an indisputable pattern of deception -- would make great tv. If you agree, let Robert Iger, CEO of ABC'S corporate parent, the Walt Disney Company, know.

GOP Politicizes 9/11

Tomorrow, the House of Representatives will consider a resolution commemorating September 11 as a day of remembrance and national tragedy. Solemn language uniting every member of Congress around a shared sense of purpose and mourning would seem appropriate for the occasion. But just as President Bush and Congressional Republicans exploited 9/11 in the run-up to the 2002 elections, GOP leaders are once again inserting divisive and misleading partisan language into what should be an apolitical moment enshrining courage and loss.

A draft text of the resolution, supported by Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, reads in part:

Whereas Congress passed, and the President signed, numerous laws to assist victims, combat the forces of terrorism, protect the Homeland and support the members of the Armed Forces who defend American interests at home and abroad: including, the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001 and its 2006 reauthorization; the Homeland Security Act of 2002; the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002; the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002; the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004; the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005; the SAFE Port Act of 2006; and the 21st Century Emergency Communications Act of 2006.

The validity, constitutionality and effectiveness of some of the above pieces of legislation have been questioned by legal and intelligence experts, prominent Democrats and even a number of Republicans. The Patriot Act immediately jumps out. But so do others. The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, which reorganized American intelligence as recommended by the 9/11 commission, was initially opposed by Bush. The Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005, otherwise known as the "Sensenbrenner Bill," severely restricts immigration rights and has been a source of controversy for months. The SAFE Port Act of 2006 passed only after House Republicans repeatedly blocked more money for port security and the Dubai ports deal died.

Such deceptive tactics have been utilized by the GOP before when it comes to national security. After Rep. John Murtha issued his redeployment plan in December 2005, Republicans passed a resolution "expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the deployment of United States forces in Iraq be terminated immediately." Murtha's plan called for no such thing. And when the House debated the war in Iraq back in June, the GOP made sure the resolution repeatedly linked Iraq to a broader war on terror and circulated concurrent talking points labeling Democrats as "weak," "dangerous" and ready to "concede defeat."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi urged Hastert to model this year's 9/11 resolution after an apolitical version that passed overwhelmingly last year. Thus far, he hasn't budged. There's an election coming up. And it's becoming increasingly clear that Republicans will do whatever it takes, including rewriting the history of 9/11, to try and avoid defeat.

Toxic Air

The latest research from Mt. Sinai Hospital shows that 69 percent of workers at Ground Zero developed respiratory problems, and that 59 percent still show symptoms. At a House hearing last Friday, lawmakers blasted ex-EPA chief Christie Todd Whitman for issuing assurances about air quality in the days following the attacks.

Whitman tried to pass the blame to local authorities, infuriating "America's Mayor," Rudy Giuliani, who slammed the former New Jersey governor in an interview with CBS for making people believe the air at ground zero was safe. "The reports we had on air quality from the EPA was the air quality was healthy or at least it wasn't dangerous," Giuliani told CBS 2's Dave Carlin.

The truth is that thousands of workers will likely need lifelong care, and a number of babies are still being born early and underweight in lower Manhattan, meaning the need may span generations. For all this, Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt has offered New York the princely sum of...$75 million. As Grist's invaluable newsletter points out, for those of you keeping track, that is less than half what the US is currently spending in one day in Iraq.

Consequently, Democrats on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce have reiterated their call for hearings into the health and safety of the thousands of workers who spent months at the World Trade Center site following the attacks. The lawmakers argue that hearings are more critical than ever in light of new research that shows that many Ground Zero workers have developed new or worsened respiratory ailments since 2001.

The lawmakers requested similar hearings three years ago after published reports indicated that the Environmental Protection Agency had given assurances to workers about air quality at Ground Zero that turned out to be inaccurate. They made a second request for hearings in July 2006 to examine whether OSHA suspended important safety regulations at the World Trade Center site in 2001 and in communities affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. In both cases, the requests for hearings were rejected by the Republican majority.

But it's a new political day and eight Democrats--George Miller, Major Owens, Donald Payne, Robert Andrews, Lynn Woolsey, Carolyn McCarthy, Dennis Kucinich, and Timothy Bishop--have jointly penned a letter to Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., the chairman of the committee, requesting the hearings. Click here to ask your elected reps to join this call.

Winning or Losing the War?

On the fifth anniversary of 9/11, as we remember those who lost lives and loved ones, it's important to ask a basic question about the mission America launched following that horrific September day.

Are we winning or losing the war on terror?

Sadly, the evidence points not to victory, but to defeat.

A front page article in the Washington Post today reports that the US military has lost a crucial province in Western Iraq to insurgents, including those affiliated with Al-Qaeda.

Lest you forget, a Senate intelligence report recently reiterated what everyone but Dick Cheney should now know: Before the war in Iraq, Saddam Hussein had no relationship with Al Qaeda. In fact, they despised each other.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban is fast regrouping. And the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, called "terrorism central," by the US military, is a thriving Al-Qaeda sanctuary.

To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, we seem to be creating more terrorists than we're killing or capturing.

"If this is indeed a long war, as the Bush administration says, then the United States has almost certainly lost the first phase," writes esteemed Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid. "Guerrillas are learning faster than Western armies, and the West makes appalling strategic mistakes while the extremists make brilliant tactical moves."

The time has obviously come for the US to think very differently about how we use both the carrot and the stick.

Cheney, 9/11 and the Truth about Iraq

Dick Cheney commemorated the fifth anniversary of 9/11 by sticking to the MO that he and his running-mate used to lead the nation into the current mess in Iraq.

Appearing on Meet the Press on Sunday, Cheney encountered a decent grilling from host Tim Russert, who pressed him on how Cheney and George W. Bush had justified the war in Iraq. "Based on what you know now, that Saddam did not have the weapons of mass destruction that were described, would you still have gone into Iraq?" Russert asked. Yes, indeed, Cheney said, hewing to the company line. And he pointed to what appeared to be evidence that supported that no-regrets stance:

Look at the Duelfer Report and what it said. No stockpiles, but they also said he has the capability. He'd done it before. He had produced chemical weapons before and used them. He had produced biological weapons. He had a robust nuclear program in '91. All of this is true, said by Duelfer, facts.

Well, let's look at the report of Charles Duelfer who headed up the Iraq Survey Group, which was responsible for searching for WMDs after the invasion. (Duelfer took the job following David Kay's resignation in late 2003.) It just so happens that in our new book, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, Michael Isikoff and I quote from that report, and it noted that Saddam's WMD capability

was essentially destroyed in 1991.

That is the opposite of what Cheney told Russert the report said. Cheney went on to remark,

Think where we'd be if [Saddam] was still there...We also would have a situation where he would have resumed his WMD programs.

Yet Duelfer reported that at the time of the invasion, Saddam had no

plan for the revival of WMD.

Cheney even justified the invasion of Iraq by citing an allegation that was just debunked in a Senate intelligence committee report released on Friday. Claiming there was a significant relationship between Saddam's regime and al Qaeda, he cited the case of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (who was recently killed in Iraq). After the US attacked the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan, Cheney said, Zarqawi

fled and went to Baghdad and set up operations in Baghdad in the spring of '02 and was there from then, basically, until basically the time we launched into Iraq.

The implication here is that Baghdad sanctioned the terrorist activity of Zarqawi, a supposed al Qaeda associate. But the Senate intelligence committee report--released by a Republican-run panel--noted that prior to the invasion of Iraq Zarqawi and his network were not part of al Qaeda. (That merging came after the invasion.) More important, the report cites CIA reports (based on captured documents and interrogations) that say that Baghdad was not protecting or assisting Zarqawi when he was in Iraq. In fact, Iraqi intelligence in the spring of 2002 had formed a "special committee" to locate and capture him--but failed to find the terrorist. A 2005 CIA report concluded that prior to the Iraq war,

the [Saddam] regime did not have a relationship, harbor, or turn a blind eye toward Zarqawi and his associates.

So why is Cheney still holding up Zarqawi as evidence that Baghdad was in cahoots with Osama bin Laden? If he knows something the CIA does not, perhaps he should inform the agency.

During the Meet the Press interview, Cheney blamed the CIA for his and Bush's prewar assertions that Iraq posed a WMD threat. That's what the intelligence said, Cheney insisted. Our book shows that this explanation (or, defense) is a dodge. There were dissents within the intelligence community on key aspects of the WMD argument for war--especially the charge that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program. Cheney dwelled on that frightening possibility before the war, repeatedly declaring that the US government knew for sure that Iraq had revved up its nuclear program. Yet there was only one strong piece of evidence for this claim--that Iraq had purchased tens of thousands of aluminum tubes for use in a centrifuge that would produce enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb. And that piece of evidence was hotly contested within the intelligence community.

One CIA analyst (whom we name for the first time in Hubris) was fiercely pushing the tube case. Yet practically every other top nuclear expert in the US government (including the centrifuge specialists at the Department of Energy) disagreed. This dispute was even mentioned in The Washington Post in September 2002. But neither Cheney nor Bush (nor national security adviser Condoleezza Rce) took an interest in this important argument. Instead, they kept insisting the tube purchases were proof Saddam was building a bomb. They were wrong. And the nuclear scientists at the Department of Energy (again, as our book notes) were ordered not to say anything publicly about the tubes.

This is but one example of how the Bush White House rigged the case for war by selectively embracing (without reviewing) convenient pieces of iffy intelligence and then presenting them to the public as hard-and-fast proof. But Cheney is right--to a limited extent. The CIA did provide the White House with intelligence that was wrong (which the White House then used irresponsibly). The new Senate intelligence report, though, shows that this was not what happened regarding one crucial part of the Bush-Cheney argument for war: that al Qaeda and Iraq were in cahoots.

Before the war, Bush said that Saddam "was dealing" with al Qaeda. He even charged that Saddam had "financed" al Qaeda. The Senate intelligence report notes clearly that the prewar intelligence on this critical issue said no such thing.

The report quotes a CIA review of the prewar intelligence: "The data reveal few indications of an established relationship between al-Qa'ida and Saddam Hussein's regime." The lead Defense Intelligence Analyst on this issue told the Senate intelligence committee that "there was no partnership between the two organizations." And post-invasion debriefings of former Iraqi regime officials indicated that Saddam had no interest in working with al Qaeda and had refused to meet with an al Qaeda emissary in 1998.

The report also augments the section in our book on Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a captured al Qaeda commander who was taken by the CIA to Egypt where he was roughly--perhaps brutally--interrogated and claimed that Iraq had provided chemical weapons training to al Qaeda. Though there were questions about al-Libi's veracity from the start, Secretary of State Colin Powell used al-Libi's claims in his famous UN speech to argue that Saddam and Osama bin Laden were partners in evil--that there was a "sinister nexus" between the two. Al-Libi later recanted, and the CIA withdrew all the intelligence based on his claims. In other words, the Bush administration had hyped flimsy intelligence to depict Saddam and bin Laden as WMD-sharing allies.

The Senate intelligence report concluded that "Saddam Hussein was distrustful of al-Qa'ida and viewed Islamic extremists as a threat to his regime, refusing all requests from al-Qa'ida to provide material or operational support."

What did Cheney tell Russert? Saddam, he insisted, "had a relationship with al Qaeda." When Russert pointed out that the intelligence committee "said that there was no relationship," Cheney interrupted and commented, "I haven't had a chance to read it."

Perhaps he should before he talks about 9/11 and Iraq again.

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INFO ON HUBRIS: Tom Brokaw says "Hubris is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For more information on Hubris, click here