The Nation

Measuring Progress by Chaos in Iraq

A CNN headline just flashed across the screen: "President Bush cites progress in Iraq crackdown." This from Bush, on the day that 93 Iraqis were blown up in the holy city of Karbala and nine American soldiers killed in twin attacks on Monday, the deadliest day for US troops since February 7, when a helicopter went down in Falluja.

If Bush measures "progress" by rising casualties, then the surge is going swimmingly. This is not the first time--and it won't be the last--that the Administration has argued that Iraq is turning the corner during one of its bloodiest moments.

But the act is beyond dated. In the latest USA Today poll, only 28 percent of Americans think the US will "win" the war. Even the White House can't define what a victory would look like. Maybe Bush should start reading polls, along with the newspaper.

And Congress ought to as well. Six in ten Americans want their elected representatives to set a deadline for withdrawing all US troops by the end of 2008.

Libby Trial: Guilty, Guilty, Guilty, Guilty

The jury found Scooter Libby guilty on four of the five counts. The ruling: Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff lied to federal investigators. I'll be back with more later--after the prosecution and defense talk to the reporters at the court house.

Libby Trial: This Just In--A Verdict!

At 11:30, the reporters covering the obstruction of justice trial of Scooter Libby were notified that the jury had reached a verdict and that the verdict wil be read in court at noon.

More to come--obviously.

Pressing for Peace

The National Call-In for Peace is an effort by a coalition of peace and veterans groups to coordinate a unified phone campaign to urge Congress to reject the Bush supplemental appropriations request for $93 billion more for the war in Iraq.

Each day from March 5 through March 13, a different national antiwar group will take the lead in generating calls to Congress. The Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) are up today with CodePink on deck for tomorrow.

PDA offers some talking points for the calls:

**Most Iraqis – both Sunni and Shia -- want US troops out of their country and most believe attacks on our troops are justified.

**US military force is no solution in Iraq. Diplomacy, not war, is the solution.

**The American people at the polls in November and in opinion polls have expressed their view that the US needs to get out.

**With its Constitutionally-granted "power of the purse," Congress has the duty to end the war by cutting off war funding, except what's needed for the prompt, safe, orderly withdrawal of all our troops.

With a wobbly Democratic leadership consumed with half-hearted amendments aimed at undermining the surge but not the war, the coalition is making every effort to marshall grassroots pressure on Democratic legislators. Help the effort by calling 1-888-851-1879 today and click here to share the story of how the call went.

The Next Mission: Removing a Tyrant

RUTLAND, Vt. -- Over the weekend, I traveled Vermont with three of the most remarkable defenders of democracy I have met in a long time: former Army Sgt. Drew Cameron, former Marine Cpl. Matt Howard and former Army Sgt. Adrienne Kinne.

We were on a mission: A mission to end an unjust and horrific war, and a mission to hold to account the men who launched that war.

What made the experience of appearing in close to a dozen communities with the local Iraq Veterans Against the War campaigners was not that these courageous young vets had chosen to speak so openly and so directly about the reasons why they favor ending the U.S. occupation of Iraq. IVAW members and supporters are speaking up all over this country, more boldly, more aggressively, every day, telling the fundamental truth that Drew Cameron, who served as a field artillery soldier in the 4th Infantry Division, spoke: "Democracy is not taught through the end of a gun."

Rather, the experience was remarkable because these veterans had come to the same conclusion as that reached by a growing number of honest critics of the war: If we are determined to bring the troops home, we have to get serious about addressing the lawlessness of those who brought this war on and who now seek to expand it.

We do not do so by promoting "non-binding resolutions."

We express our seriousness by sending a signal that the need to end this occupation of a foreign land is so pressing that we are prepared to speak of impeaching the men who promise to maintain their military misadventure for so long as they occupy the White House.

"If you want to support the troops, you need to support the Constitution," explained Kinne, who served in the Army from 1994 to 2004 as an Arabic linguist in military intelligence, "And you need to recognize that if you support the Constitution, you must support impeachment."

There are millions of Americans who would like to impeach George Bush and Dick Cheney for the long list of high crimes and misdemeanors that have been associated with the names of these errant executives over the past six years. For instance, polls suggest that a majority of Americans favor impeachment if it is proven that the president lied to the America people about the reasons for going to war in Iraq.

But there are still those casual citizens who suggest that impeachment is a "distraction" from the important business of the day.

What absurdity!

The Americans who established the power to impeach had just finished a revolution against a king named George. They fought that revolution on the premise, spelled out by a young Virginia farmer named Thomas Jefferson, that the people had the power to remove leaders who disregarded the rule of law and the mandates of morality. "A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people," wrote Jefferson, who worried that the presidency would devolve into a circumstance where an occupant of the Oval Office would govern as a king for four years.

An "elected despotism" is not what we in America fought to achieve, explained Jefferson, who established that both members of the U.S. House and state legislatures would have the authority to submit articles of impeachment.

Impeachment is not a casual act of political retribution. It is not a game. It is an essential act of the republic, established and defined for the purpose of preventing presidents from governing as warrior kings.

We are not talking about stained blue dresses anymore.

We are talking about a war that has cost more than 3,000 lives and ruined tens of thousands more -- need we mention Walter Reed? -- a war that has cost hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, a war that is emptying our federal treasury at a rate of $200 million a day.

Impeachment, as intended by the founders who created a system of checks and balances in order to "chain the dogs of war," is a political act -- initiated, at its best, with the purpose of preventing a president from maintaining a course of action that affronts the Constitution, endangers the republic or damages democracy.

The war in Iraq does all of these things. And, yet, as the Bush-Cheney administration proposes to surge 21,500 more young Americans into the quagmire that is Iraq, and as the Congress debates non-binding resolutions that, by virtue of their very names, are guaranteed to be inconsequential, there are those who would dare suggest that impeachment initiatives might distract the House and Senate.

There is no more serious work than ending the war.

The veterans I traveled with this past weekend put no faith in non-binding resolutions.

Instead, they expressed a faith, born of bitter experience, that only a serious movement to impeach Bush and Cheney will meet these maladministrators with a response equal to the crisis the president and vice president seek to perpetuate.

"The first thing I did in the United States military was swear to defend the Constitution," recalled Howard, who served two combat tours in Iraq, deploying with the 1st Tank Battalion, 1st Marine Division. "I swore an oath to defend the Constitution, and that is what I'm doing now by speaking out against the war and against this administration."

Over the course of three days, we spoke in schools, churches and community halls across the state of Vermont about the war and impeachment. We were encouraging Vermonters to vote for impeachment resolutions at today's town meetings -- as part of a process to convince the state legislature to forward articles of impeachment to Congress and to get Vermont's U.S. representative to propose and promote such articles. We were joined by Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a slain Iraq War veteran who has long been an advocate of the "Impeach for Peace" movement, and by Dan DeWalt, the instigator of Vermont's grassroots impeachment campaign.

If the call for impeachment is raised by the town meetings of Vermont today, it will not be a "symbolic" act.

It will be the right response to the wrong war. It will be the response that our bravest veterans counsel that we must embrace if we want to get about the business of bringing the troops home. As Drew Cameron said, "They're sending us to these aggressive wars overseas and democracy is eroding beneath our feet here at home so… it us our duty, it is our service to say something about that."


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.'"

R.I.P., Anna Nicole

At times, the right and the left share a school-marmish attitude toward pop culture and the people who enjoy it. (You know, those benighted fools who make up most of the world's population.) Not surprisingly, then, liberals and conservatives alike have been falling all over themselves to chide the masses for taking an interest in the tragic story of Anna Nicole Smith. Writing in the March 19 National Review, Rob Long admits that watching the judge cry on television he thought: "What are we fighting so hard for? Let the terrorists win. They have a point." New York Times token conscience Bob Herbert recently lamented that Americans care more about Anna Nicole than about global warming or the resurgence of terrorists in North Waziristan. (He even quotes arch-scold Neil Postman, author of Amusing Ourselves to Death.) Over the past month, I've heard numerous similar laments.

People, get a grip.

First, what's not interesting about this story? An iconic and beautiful celebrity dies after enduring a horrendous trauma (her adult son died while she was still in the hospital after giving birth to a daughter). Everything is in question, from the cause of death to the paternity of the baby to where -- in a creepy twist -- Smith's rapidly decomposing body should be buried. Sure, it won't affect our children's futures and won't matter that much a year from now. But if you weren't -- at least briefly -- sucked into the high drama and supreme weirdness of this story, you're probably the lovechild of Theodor Adorno and Donald Wildmon.

And look how much more compelling it is than many allegedly "serious" news stories, many of which are simply pallid -- rather than tragic or titillating -- gossip. Most of the endless reports about the presidential candidates and their little tiffs and beefs with one another are, after all, about nothing more than celebrity and personality, and these don't even deliver sizzle, much less steak!

Furthermore, why should we have to choose between gossip and "real" news? We journalists are perfectly capable of following both Anna Nicole's autopsy report and Al Qaeda -- why should we assume that the rest of the public can't do the same? People spend ample time on the Internet, and watching TV. Bob Herbert intones gravely: "I imagine that there are a fair number of television viewers and newspaper readers who have trouble distinguishing the relative importance of celebrity stories, like the death of Ms. Smith, from other matters in the news, like the reconstitution of forces responsible for the devastating Sept. 11 attacks." Herbert imagines this is true, but provides no data or evidence showing that it is. I've never met any mentally functional adult (much less a "newspaper reader") who had "trouble distinguishing" between a celebrity story and a news story of longer-term social or economic significance, and I doubt that Bob Herbert has, either.

In the case of Anna Nicole, broadcasters did get carried away; for two days in February, the story took up half the airtime on CNN, Fox and MSNBC, according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism. But as the Associated Press reported today, the networks backed off in their coverage of Smith's Friday funeral. And guess what? You're still not going to see much in-depth coverage of North Waziristan. Or much thoughtful coverage of anything else. So let's not blame Anna Nicole for the sorry state of the U.S. media. Hasn't the lady suffered enough?

Home From the Wars--and Homeless

Homeless Veterans

In the Washington Post today, following on the Post's extraordinary series about Walter Reed Army Medical Center, reporter Christian Davenport takes an important look at the problem of homelessness for veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq.

Although the Department of Veterans Affairs provided shelter for only 300 veterans of the two wars from 2004 to 2006, Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, told the Post that this number fails to include the "others sleeping in buses, their cars or on the streets." Rieckhoff said his group alone has helped 60 veterans since 2004--and that's just in New York City.

Army studies suggest that "up to 30 percent of soldiers coming home from Iraq have suffered from depression, anxiety or PTSD… [and] that those who have served multiple tours are 50 percent more likely to suffer from acute combat stress." But the VA says that there is no causal connection between combat exposure and homelessness. Local shelter providers disagree, and retired Army Col. Charles Williams--executive director of the Maryland Center for Veterans Education and Training--says that the increased demand for shelter is on its way. "The wave has not hit yet," he told the Post, "but it will."

Rep. Bob Filner, chair of the Committee on Veterans Affairs, would probably agree. Last month Filner cited that there are 200,000 homeless veterans on any given night, and how this speaks to the importance of getting the Veterans Administration to treat post traumatic stress disorder and other forms of mental illness. Filner co-sponsored the Bring Our Troops Home and Sovereignty of Iraq Restoration Act, which would guarantee full health care funding, including mental health, for US veterans of the Iraq war and other conflicts.

The One in Four War

General David Petraeus, the top US commander in Iraq, is widely viewed as the architect behind a "surge" of 21,500 troops. But even Petraeus believes that the Bush Administration's policy is unlikely to succeed.

Oregon Senator Gordon Smith said Friday that Petraeus told him privately that "we have a one in four chance that Bush's plan will work." (Thanks to Josh Marshall for unearthing Smith's remark.)

The Administration and its loyalists are constantly urging critics of the war to give Petraeus time for his policy to bear fruit. But is it tactically smart--and morally justifiable--to send 21,500 more troops into a mission that even our top generals believe is likely to fail?

And how in the world does the Administration still not have a backup plan. "Plan B was to make Plan A work," Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen recalled after a group of governors met with the White House last week.

Or maybe there's a plan C: Topple Iran and hope nobody remembers Iraq (or Afghanistan).

Human Rights, Democracy, the US, and Syria

I spent a few days in Damascus at the end of February, and was able to get a ground reality view of the effects of the Bush administration's (former) campaign for the forced 'democratization' of Middle Eastern societies on the work of Syrian citizens with long experience struggling for human rights and democracy in their country.

Bottom line: "Very bad indeed."

That was the verdict rendered on the Bushites' 'democratization' campaign by Danial Saoud, the President of the venerable Committee for the Defence of Human Rights and Democratic Freedoms in Syria (CDF).

Saoud was himself a political prisoner from 1987 through 1999, and has been President of the CDF since August 2006. He was adamant that what Syria's rights activists need most of all right now is a resolution of their country's state of war with Israel.

Speaking of Condoleezza Rice he said,

    Her pressure on the regime had a very bad effect for us. Now, for 18-24 months the Americans and Europeans have put a lot of pressure on the regime-- but the regime then just pushes harder on us.

Mazen Darwish, who is Saoud's colleague in the CDF's three-person Presidential Council, told me,

    Before the US invasion of Iraq, people here in Syria liked us, the human rights activists, and we had significant popular sympathy. But since what happened in Iraq, people here say 'Look at the results of that!'

Saoud stressed that for Syrians, the question of Israel's continued occupation of Syria's Golan region itself constitutes a significant denial of the rights of all the Syrian citizens affected-- both those who remain in Golan, living under Israeli military occupation rule there, and those who had fled when Israel occupied Golan in 1967 and have had to live displaced from their homes and farms for the 40 years since then. "Golan is Syrian land, and we have all the rights to get it back," he said.

In addition, he and the other rights activists I talked with pointed to the fact that the continuing state of war between Syria and Israel has allowed the Syrian regime to keep in place the State of Emergency that was first imposed in the country in 1963. "All these regimes in this area say they are postponing the issue of democracy until after they have solved the issues of Golan and Palestine," he said.

    So let's get them solved! Everything should start from this. The people in both Syria and Israel need peace. We need to build a culture of peace in the whole area.

... The CDF is working hard to build this culture.

Both men pointed out the numerous contradictions and ambiguities in the policy the US has pursued regarding democratization in Syria. Darwish noted that, "When the US had a good relationship with Syria, in 1991, Danial was in prison-- and the US didn't say anything about that." These two men, and other rights activists I talked with also noted that more recently, even during the Bushites' big push for 'democratization' in Syria in 2004-2005, the Bushites were still happy to benefit from Syria's torture chambers by sending some suspected Al-Qaeda people there to be tortured. (Canadian-Syrian dual citizen Maher Arar was only the most famous of these victims. In September 2005, Amnesty International published this additional list.)

Over the past year, two processes have been underway in Syria that seem to confirm these activists' argument that US pressure on the Damascus regime has been detrimental to their cause. Firstly, the rapid deterioration in the US's power in the region has considerably diminished Washington's ability to pressure the Syria regime on any issues, and Damascus has become notably stronger and self-confident than it was a year ago. For some evidence of this, see my latest interview with Foreign Minister Walid Mouallem, serialized here, here, and here.

Secondly, over the same period, the situation of human rights activists within the country seems to have improved some.

Saoud told me that the number of (secular) political prisoners in the country is now less than 20. Indeed, the day we talked, about 16 Kurdish and student activists who had been held for less than a month had just been released. He said "No-one knows how many Islamist activists are in detention... We don't hear about them until they come to court." He said, "They don't torture people like Anwar al-Bunni or Michel Kilo, or the others who were detained last year for having signed the Beirut-Damascus Declaration." He indicated, however, that it was very likely that many of the Islamist detainees had been tortured. (Human Rights Watch's recently released report for 2006 states that in Syria, "Thousands of political prisoners, many of them members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood and the Communist Party, remain in detention.)

... Meanwhile, the main factor dominating political developments in Syria as in the rest of the Middle East, is the continued and extremely painful collapse of conditions inside Iraq. Syrians have watched that collapse in horror. Their country has received and given a temporary refuge to more than a million Iraqis (a considerable burden on their nation, equivalent to the US taking in some 17 million refugees within just a couple of years.) And since Iraq's collapse has occurred under a Washington-advertised rubric of "democratization", the whole tragedy in Iraq has tended to give the concept a very bad name, and has caused Arabs and Muslims throughout the Middle East to value political stability much, much more than hitherto.

Under those circumstances, it is very moving to still hear people living in Arab countries talking about the need for democracy. But when they do so, they are very eager to distance themselves from the coerciveness inherent in Washington's recent 'democratization' project. And they all-- regime supporters and oppositionists, alike--stress the need for moves toward democratization to grow out the local people's needs and priorities, rather than the geostrategies pursued by distant Washington.