Capital Games | The Nation


Capital Games

 Washington: a city of denials, spin, and political calculations. The Nation's former DC editor David Corn spent 2002-2007 blogging on the policies, personalities and lies that spew out of the nation's capital. The complete archive appears below. Corn is now the DC editor at Mother Jones.

A No-Issues Contest

"We're in a war of ideas!" So declared Bill Barry, chairman of the Nashua, New Hampshire, Democrats, when he enthusiastically introduced Senator John Edwards at a campaign rally as the fellow who most deserved to win the primary in two days.

Barry was wrong.

There is no war of ideas occurring in the New Hampshire primary. There is barely a skirmish. The four top contenders--Senator John Kerry, former Governor Howard Dean, retired General Wesley Clark, and Edwards--each bemoan the influence of special interests in Washington (particularly its impact upon the Medicare prescription drug legislation), call for universal health care coverage, praise the potential of renewable and sustainable energy, promise to reverse George W. Bush's environmental policies, support abortion rights, and vow to de-unilateralize foreign policy. There are policy disagreements. Dean wants to repeal all of Bush's tax cuts; Kerry and Edwards want to dump only those that benefit wealthy taxpayers. Dean reminds his supporters that he opposed handing Bush the authority to invade Iraq while Kerry and Edwards voted to grant Bush that power. Yet on the question of what to do now in Iraq, the four candidates agree on the need to internationalize the occupation and try to coax other nations to contribute more troops and money. Representative Dennis Kucinich has tried to provoke a debate on two key matters by claiming he alone has a plan to replace U.S. troops in Iraq with United Nations forces within 90 days--though the U.N. has yet to indicate it is willing to do that--and by calling for universal, single-payer, not-for-profit health care. But given his in-the-basement standing in the polls, Kucinich has not created any back-and-forth on these topics.

This is a campaign of impressions and identities. The goal: find the right knight to vanquish the evil king. In on-the-stump performance, Dean and Edwards have been far better campaigners than Kerry and Clark. But that might not be enough for them to trip up Kerry the frontrunner.

Of the major contenders, Edwards has the best delivery and the best thematic approach. With passion and sincerity, he critiques the existence of "two Americas"--one for the well-to-do families that have access to quality health care, benefit from the existing tax code, and send their children to good schools; one for everyone else. Under the rubric of turning the "two Americas" into one, Edwards, the son of a mill worker, assails Washington lobbyists, empathizes with middle-class families squeezed by economic pressures, vows to restore America's image abroad, and advocates policies that can return hope to stressed-out, low- and middle-income families. And he has the healthiest glow of all the candidates--he practically shines--and the best gestures, which come from his days as a trial lawyer. This pitch neatly weaves in his own personal up-from-the-working-class history. He has only been doing his "two Americas" routine since early January, and it may well be responsible for his second-place finish in Iowa.

Edwards has put together an attractive package. Is it flying off the shelf? The election will tell. His events appear to have the most uncommitted voters in attendance. That may signal movement in his direction. Or it might merely mean that the undecideds already have enough information on Dean, Kerry, and Clark and are giving Edwards a last look before rendering a final judgment.

Dean also has improved his offering to the voters. He has tried to counter the Scream Heard Around the World with one-liners ("I am so excited to be here, I could just scream"). And he highlights his command of policy. At a campaign event emphasizing women's issues, Dean spoke authoritatively on Title IX (he opposes efforts to cut this funding for athletic programs for schoolgirls), early child development (he described a program he initiated in Vermont to help at-risk children at birth), and stem cells research (he noted his support for full federal funding). He blasted the Bush administration's proposal to increase the work obligations for women on welfare ("We call it the Leave Every Child Unsupervised At Home Bill"), and he called for boosting the minimum wage, observing that such a move would disproportionately assist women. He noted that Barbara Ehrenreich's book, Nickel and Dimed, which chronicles the travails of low-income workers, ought to be "required reading" for every presidential candidate.

At this meeting, Dean came across as a smart, sure-footed, if a bit wonkish, liberal, but one who turned policy into programs in Vermont. And he continues to excite his core voters with his talk of reviving idealism and using people power to "take back the country" from special interests. He points to his early opposition to the Iraq war as proof he has the courage of his convictions, but he does not dwell on his war stance.

On Sunday, the Dean campaign maintained that its tracking polls showed him within a few points of Kerry, even though the Boston Globe had Kerry up by 23 points. At Dean rallies and events, his fans appear to be unbowed, undaunted, and still revved up--far more so than the voters who attend campaign events for other candidates. There are two basic questions about Dean's prospects. First, how big is his core? Is it 18 percent, 23 percent? More? Less? Second, if it is not big enough to propel him into first place or a close second, does Dean have any reach beyond these die-hard Deaniacs? He seems to be the candidate about whom Democratic voters have the strongest feelings--for or against. That may limit his ability to attract voters who are not already on his side.

Kerry may well be benefiting from an opposite dynamic. He does not excite as Dean does (or seduce as effectively as Edwards). But he presents a more conventional--and perhaps--more comfortable choice for New Hampshire Democrats. Unlike Dean, Kerry faces no questions about his ability to handle national security matters. Unlike Edwards, Kerry faces no questions about his overall experience in government. In fact, his years of experience are written into his sad-dog face. Maybe it is due to these reasons that Kerry has wider--though not deeper--support than Dean and Edwards.

It is not because of his performance on the campaign trail. When it comes to being a candidate, Kerry cannot do better than a B-plus. It's as if there is a Kerry wall. He says all the right things for a Democrat--but without any magic or music. He slams HMOs, insurance companies, Big Energy firms, pharmaceutical manufacturers. He can deliver dramatic lines, such as, "I know something about aircraft carriers for real." Still, he does not connect as much as a frontrunner should. Is it because his speechifying skills have never been honed? At a gathering of Democratic officials, activists, and fundraisers at Nashua on Saturday night, Kerry criticized Bush for doing little on jobs and health care, and he declared, "It's not only not mission accomplished; it's mission not even legitimately attempted." He certainly could have punched this point more effectively. And when Fox News' Chris Wallace, during a televised interview, asked Kerry, who voted against the Defense of Marriage Act, about his position on gay marriage, Kerry repeatedly said, "I'm against marriage." Wallace had to remind Kerry to say gay marriage.

These examples don't adequately describe Kerry's limitations. He may well be a thoughtful, intelligent person--and a war hero/jock. At a charity hockey event in Manchester, Kerry played on a team against former Boston Bruins all-stars, and acquitted himself quite well. (Two goals, no hat trick.) And his campaign has been handing out thousands of copies of a 1998 issue of American Windsurfer magazine, which features Kerry on the cover and includes dramatic photos of him in a wet-suit and skipping over the waves. But he still needs a mojo transplant. At a rally with Senator Ted Kennedy at Nashua High School on Sunday, Kerry raised his voice and assailed the Medicare prescription drug bill as a $139 billion sop to the drug companies. He whacked Bush for weakening clean air and clean water legislation. He assailed Washington lobbyists. He said he would have renewable and alternative fuels provide 20 percent of the nation's energy by 2020. And he observed that Bush has overseen the "most arrogant, inept, reckless, and ideological foreign policy" in American history. But he did not ignite the crowd. The audience was supportive--but not as jazzed as it could have (or should have) been. Here was Kerry's chance to wow them completely. He just cannot do it. [UPDATE: On Monday evening, in his second-to-last campaign rally, Kerry, appearing in the gym on Pinkerton Academy in Derry, kicked out an A-minus performance. He was loose and energetic, he looked happy, he effectively engaged with questioners in the crowd.]

Nevertheless, Kerry is at the head of the pack. At the start of the 2004 campaign, political observers handicapped Kerry as the frontrunner because he was something of a default candidate: a war hero with positions in sync with most Democrats, a grownup, and a good fundraiser. That defaultness did not serve him well in the early stretch, when he lost the passion primary and the money primary to Dean. But it may be partly responsible for his resurgence in Iowa and New Hampshire. He is not a bold pick; he is a safe pick. Is it possible that voters craving an anti-Bush champion are responding to the idea of John Kerry more than the actual John Kerry? If so, how far can this relationship go?

Clark, like Kerry, has had a tough time making good on his potential. He essentially had New Hampshire to himself for a week--who counts Senator Joseph Lieberman?--and there are no signs he was able to exploit that opportunity. He entered the race late in September and--no surprise--he has been performing like a candidate who only has four months of experience. At that gathering of leading state Democrats, Clark delivered a speech that failed to rouse the audience. Too much of it was devoted to explaining why he now is a Democrat. His party credentials have been challenged by the other candidates. After all, he voted for Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon. But it is too far into the game for Clark to be defending himself on this front. And he did so with little eloquence. Arguing that the Democratic Party, not the GOP, is the party of family values, Clark remarked, "family values are what it takes to have a family." He also got worked up and exclaimed, "We've got to take out that president." He can speak effectively on matters of national security, but he has not yet figured out a larger sales pitch.

Clark has had trouble dealing with the inevitable bumps, such as when ABC News' Peter Jennings asked him to disavow filmmaker Michael Moore, who while endorsing Clark called Bush a military deserter. (Jennings described this as a reckless charge, but Bush appears to have ducked out of his National Guard service for a year, and he has never adequately explained all the missing time.) In response to Jennings--and subsequent interviewers--Clark noted Moore had the right to have any opinion he wanted (apparently about anything). That sounded more like a dodge than a defense.

What's driving the contest in New Hampshire is not issues. That is no shocker. The policy differences are not pronounced, and elections are usually more about the seekers than their ideas. One idea is paramount now: find the guy who can dethrone Bush. Kerry may end up the choice in New Hampshire because his perceived liabilities are less tangible--or less worrisome--than those of Dean and Edwards. Politics, after all, is a relativist endeavor. And fortunately for Kerry, in this race the campaign performances of the candidates might be a small factor. On Tuesday, the contest will likely turn not on what voters feel about the candidates but on what they think they should feel about them.

DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S NEW BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations....Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." For more information and a sample, check out the book's official website: www.bushlies.com

The Populists of New Hampshire

There is the Angry Populist, the Calm Populist, the Polite Populist, the Executive Populist, and the Radical Populist. That's who racing across New Hampshire chasing Democratic and independent voters in the days before the first presidential primary of 2004. Oh, there's also Joe Lieberman.

Senator John Kerry, the leader in the polls, is the angry one. He doesn't hoot or holler. But he declares, "It is time for us to get angry...and restore real democracy to the United States." By that he means he wants to rid Washington of the money-grubbing special interests out. And when he has not been pushing that mission, he has been talking about his Vietnam days. On Friday, he appeared with Vietnam veterans at a rally in Manchester and told war stories. One of his television ads showed a war buddy of his talking about Kerry: "There's a sense after Vietnam that every day is extra....That you have to do what's right." And the spot included video of Kerry as a soldier in Nam. Kerry is, by nature, cautiously passionate. A little anger is not a bad idea for him; it allows him to emote, which has not been his strong suit as a candidate. Heading into the final weekend, his strategy remained obvious one: talk about your record, bash George W. Bush for catering to corporate interests, and, most importantly, keep plodding ahead and don't screw up.

Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean is now the calm one. He is more interesting to watch than Kerry, for he has the more difficult challenge. He has had to rejigger his approach. That has entailed burnishing his image as a responsible and straight-talking governor of many accomplishments while also maintaining his insurgent take-back-America message. At a rally on Friday night, he pulled it off. Speaking at Keene Middle School to an overflowing crowd of about 1500 Dean enthusiasts--a group of all ages--he nailed his case. With a calm, steady and firm delivery, Dean noted the qualities that would make him a good president: he is willing to stand up for what he believes, whether it is popular or not (the proof: his early opposition to the Iraq war and the No Child Left Behind act, his support of civil unions for gays and lesbians); he has experience and can deliver on health care (the proof: his success in Vermont); and, unlike other politicians, he tells the truth.

To prove that last point, Dean noted that his Democratic opponents say that America can have a middle-class tax cut and expanded education funding, kindergarten through college and expanded health care coverage. No way, Dean said, adding, "You know why 50 percent of Americans don't vote? It's because politicians talk like that before every election." But, he added, when these pols enter office they cannot deliver on such promise. "You can't win an election on promises," Dean asserted. He, on the other hand, is willing to acknowledge the hard truth: "You can't have everything." Someone has to tell the people that. And Dean maintained he is the only candidate prepared to do so--to balance the budget and be realistic in terms of new social programs. He said his budget would have room for expanding health insurance, a program for early child development, and an alternative energy initiative.

In striking this stance, Dean was reminiscent of Paul Tsongas, the deceased Democratic senator from Massachusetts, who in 1992 ran for president hailing balanced budgets and accusing a little-known governor named Bill Clinton of pandering to voters by proposing various spending initiatives and a middle-class tax cut. Tsongas won the New Hampshire primary. He flopped after that.

But Dean had more to offer his Deaniacs than warmed-over, tell-the-ugly-truth centrism. He blasted George W. Bush for "shoveling money...into the pockets of the pharmaceutical companies," and he complained that "all the things that happen in Washington happen for the benefit of corporations and special interests." Dean added, "We want the country back." And he spoke of his campaign as a movement designed not merely to elect him but to empower his supporters. The spin is, he said, that "this is a campaign of anger. This is a campaign of hope....I don't want people to believe in me. I want you to believe in yourselves.....The biggest lie that people like me tell people like you is that if you vote for me, I'll solve your problems. The truth is, the power to change this country is in your hands....On Tuesday, you have the power to change the Democratic Power."

Dean exuded a quiet strength. He came across as determined and deliberate. His talk effectively blended the resume portion of his pitch and his idealistic call to arms. He got the mix right, as he positioned himself as a tough-love kind of maverick who could combine the message of Paul Tsongas and that of Paul Wellstone. And his supporters loved it. They cheered and applauded. They were pumped up. It was as if The Shriek had never left his throat. It was clear that Dean still had his ardent believers. But at this point Dean probably needs more than the revived enthusiasm of already-committed Deaniacs to win in New Hampshire or finish near the top. Can performances like this one undo the damage of Iowa? Has his appeal reached a natural limit? Dean and his followers--many of whom do appear to believe they are part of a movement--will know soon.

Senator John Edwards of North Carolina is the Polite Populist. On Friday, he visited the Page Belting company in Concord. It was there, almost a year earlier, "where people first saw the Edwards magic," one of his aides told me. She was referring to a session in which Edwards met with some of the firm's employees and the workers became teary while discussing the economic hardships they and their families faced.

Edwards was back now to have a similar discussion with two dozen Page workers. But this time they were surrounded by 150 members of the press. Edwards reeled off his "two Americas" speech, which he has refined to a smooth and seamless indictment of Bush's Washington. There is one America where people get all the health care they need; then there's the America with a health care system that doesn't work for many and is controlled by insurance companies and HMOs. There is one America where affluent communities have wonderful public schools; one America where the schools are troubled. "We shouldn't have two public school systems," Edwards remarked. There are "two governments" in the nation's capital: "one for the insiders...whatever is left is for you."

Edwards did not raise his voice. He did not show anger. This son of a mill worker who became a millionaire superlawyer displayed earnest indignation, quiet outrage. He adopted a "get this" tone. He told the employees, "What goes on in Congress is that you have the lobbyists for the big drug companies and they're all over the place and they come up to members of Congress and say, 'Can you help us on the [Medicare prescription drug] bill?'...And then [the members] says, 'Are we going to see you at the fundraiser tonight."

The Page Belting workers did not respond with "amens." Instead, they knowingly nodded their heads--especially when Edwards referred to predatory credit card companies that sock it to consumers who don't read the fine print. He came armed with supposed solutions, such as banning campaign contributions from corporate lobbyists. "The Washington lobbyists are taking your democracy away from you," he commented, "and we ought to stop it."

Edwards never got mean or dark. He loaded his pitch with feel-good, can-do optimism, insisting his message is "based on politics of hope, based on the politics of what is possible." He noted, "You deserve a president who can make you feel good about the future, good about yourselves again." Then Edwards left in his campaign bus, dubbed the "Real Solutions Express"--which is not to be confused with Kerry's bus, "The Real Deal Express." Will Edwards' kinder, gentler populism play? He does have one heckuva pleasant and persuasive manner. New Hampshire voters--and Democrats elsewhere--looking for populism with a smile and a down-home drawl will be tempted.

At a health care policy forum at the Palace Theater in Manchester, retired General Wesley Clark shared his views on health care with several hundred medical professionals. It was odd that he had to read his remarks. At this point in the contest--four days before the New Hampshire primary--a Democratic candidate should be able to talk about health care in his sleep. Clark began weakly, referring to his own brushes with the medical system: tonsillitis at the age of 3, appendicitis at 14, several gun shot wounds when he was in Vietnam. ("I think they hit me one more time, while I was crawling away.") He noted that he had delivered health care to soldiers and their families, tossed off automatic rhetoric about health care as a "family value," and decried greedy drug companies. It was standard fare, and the audience seemed less than engaged. A senior campaign aide for Senator Lieberman, was standing next to me and chortling about Clark's underwhelming performance.

Then--like a good general--Clark briskly ran through a four-step program. Number one: if elected president, he would issue an executive order that would allow the reimportation of cheaper drugs from Canada and elsewhere. "Interesting," murmured the Lieberman aide. Number two: direct the secretary of Health and Human Services to audit all drug companies to see if these companies had used government funding to develop drugs and not shared subsequent profits. "Wow," the Lieberman aide said softly. Numbers three and four were less surprising: introduce legislation that would permit the U.S. government to bargain with pharmaceutical companies over the costs of drugs, and end barriers that keep generic drugs off the market.

Clark also outlined his plan for expanding health insurance. Yeah, yeah--all candidates have a plan. More significantly, he claimed to be a non-politician who was not merely willing to swing away at the drug companies on Day One but who also had specific ideas on how to do so. Here was a practical populist.

Representative Dennis Kucinich was the non-practical populist. He hit the stage after Clark. He slammed the other candidates for talking about health insurance, not health care. Speaking without notes, he made a passionate and effective case for a single-payer health care system that would provide extensive services for everyone and rid medicine of insurance companies and HMOs. "My question to you in New Hampshire is," he said, "'how much change do you really want?' Do you really want to be free of...insurance companies...and pharmaceutical companies?" He was met with shouts of approval from the health care professionals in the theater. Perhaps that was because he had delivered an assertive and sincere presentation without becoming shrill. It was Kucinich at his best. He was a facts-based visionary. But it may well be that New Hampshire does not want as much change as he is offering. His go-the-distance brand of populism has yet to win him more than a percentage point or two of support.

As for Lieberman, he delivered an impressive briefing at the health care forum. It was chockfull of detailed and sensible-sounding policy proposals: a Medikids insurance program for children, health care centers in elementary schools, a Medichoice program to provide affordable health insurance coverage to adults, an executive order to reverse Bush's decision severely limiting federal funding of stem cells research. But there was not one mention of drug companies, HMOs, or insurance firms. (Remember Lieberman is from Connecticut.) It was all policy, no populism. He is the odd-man out in the race.

Lieberman aside--and he may soon well be--populism is the rage in New Hampshire. Dean is probably correct when he boasts he was the first candidate in this year's race to crusade against special interests. Now an assault on the rigged ways of Washington is part of almost everyone's routine. It has become de rigeur. Even if the populism adopted by the leading candidates is limited, Dean can take credit for having changed the party, or at least its 2004 debate. The question is, will New Hampshire voters credit him for having done so?

DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S NEW BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations....Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." For more information and a sample, check out the book's official website: www.bushlies.com.

A Dud of a Debate

The New Hampshire Democratic presidential debate was supposed to be the Super Bowl of the primary season face-offs.

It was--only in that it was long and dull and marked by uninspiring performances, which sadly is often what happens in the NFL championship match. Unfortunately, this event lacked interesting commercials.

As the two hours dragged by, many of the 400 journalists in the media watching room--a gymnasium on the campus of St. Anselm College--rolled their eyes and checked their watches. It was five days before the first primary of 2004, and expectations had been high. The surprising results in Iowa had injected additional drama into the New Hampshire contest. Could Dean, the heretofore Internet-fueled powerhouse of the race, recover from his third-place finish and the shriek heard around the world? Could John Kerry, the come-from-behind victor of Iowa, exploit his Midwest win and outperform the rest of the pack in his native New England? How would Wesley Clark, the born-recently Democrat who had skipped Iowa, fare against the battle-scarred veterans of the caucuses? Could John Edwards, the sunnier candidate, outshine his rivals?

Political journalists--myself included--thought this debate could be the decisive moment in a decisive contest.

We were wrong.

Several hours before the debate, I ran into a Clark adviser at a Manchester restaurant. What's the General's goal for tonight? I asked. "To do okay," the Clark lieutenant deadpanned. "Seriously," I replied. He countered, "I am being serious."

It was as if all the candidates were aiming for the same bar: okayness. In part, that was due to the debate's structure: four journalists asking questions of the candidates that permitted no give and take between the contenders. It was also due to what has become known as the Lesson of Iowa: going negative hurts. Few elbows were thrown. No spitballs were hurled. Candidates stuck to their stump speeches. Edwards noted that people are "hungry for change in America. They're hungry for change in Washington, D.C. And the truth is, the truth is, that I'm somebody who's been in Washington long enough to see what's wrong with it and how it needs to be changed." Kerry maintained he wanted to take on "special interests" and that he had national security credentials that would allow him to go toe-to-toe with Bush. Joseph Lieberman stressed his "values" and his enthusiastic support for the war in Iraq. Clark pushed his experience as an executive and professed his fealty to Democratic Party principles. Dennis Kucinich blasted the Nafta trade accord and insisted he was the most antiwar candidate, claiming his plan to end the U.S. occupation in Iraq could bring American troops home within 90 days and noting that Dean would let U.S. forces remain there perhaps for years.

Dean had the most to prove--or disprove. He tried to reposition himself as an ex-governor who has demonstrated the ability to get things done (such as expanding health care coverage to most Vermont residents and balancing the state's budget) and who has the courage to tell inconvenient truths and stand up for principles even if they are unpopular (such as opposing the war and backing civil unions for gays and lesbians). He stayed in control. There was little fiery talk of taking back America with an insurgent campaign.

Policy differences among the candidates were not pronounced. There was disagreement on tax cuts. (Kerry was for middle-class tax cuts included in the Bush tax cuts package; Dean argued these tax cuts were bogus.) A few uncomfortable moments occurred. ABC News anchor Peter Jennings asked Al Sharpton about the Federal Reserve Board and his views on monetary policy. Sharpton replied with a rambling answer about the International Monetary Fund. (Even Sharpton was not his usual zinger-filled self. He only got off one good line the whole debate: "I wanted to say to Governor Dean, don't be hard on yourself about hooting and hollering. If I had spent the money you did and got 18 percent, I'd still be in Iowa hooting and hollering." But by Sharptonian standards, this was not Grade A material.) Edwards, the onetime superlawyer, botched a question about the Defense of Marriage Act, mischaracterizing it completely while stumbling through his reply.

But mostly the candidates met the Clark standard and did okay. No one came across as commanding or daring. No one produced a memorable moment. Kerry, who leads in the polls, did little to enhance or endanger his frontrunner status. It is doubtful that New Hampshire voters, who have been bombarded with campaign ads and saturated media coverage, learned a lot more about the seven alternatives. The most dramatic moment of the evening came before the debate when Kerry arrived and joined a parade organized by the firefighters union, which is supporting him. With a bagpipes and drums corps leading the way, Kerry, mobbed by fans, marched with several hundred pumped-up men down a hill, and they ran smack into a horde of students for Dean, who tried to stand their ground and slow the Kerry procession. Bodies collided, signs went flying. (Have you ever been crushed between a beefy cameraman and a beefy firefighter wearing a kilt and carrying a bass drum? I have.) This was the only excitement of the night. The firefighters and Kerry did make it past the Deaniacs. And, yes, I spotted a fair number of piercings.

The post-debate activity was hardly this thrilling. As is customary, reporters gathered in a designated "Spin Room" to hear what candidates and their surrogates had to say about the debate. Often these instant postmortems are lively, as campaigns push self-serving lines in a frantic effort to characterize the debate before reporters file their reports. Tonight was different. There was no need for spin. Nothing had happened during the debate that needed explaining, defending, or amplification. No campaign bothered attempting to argue that its man had won--or had even outscored anyone else.

One reporter asked Edwards to identify the "critical point" in the debate. He accurately replied, "I'm not sure there was a critical point." Edwards did gripe that the format of the debate had prevented him from talking about "a lot of issues that affect people's lives so voters could see what I would do." I asked him to tell us what issues he had in mind. He replied, "What the country is hungry for is an optimistic, positive vision of hope." And he went on to repeat his standard line that there are "two different Americas," one where people have health care and win big under the tax system, one where people do not.

But, I pressed him, what specific issues should have been addressed. He responded by noting that he had proposed banning campaign contributions from lobbyists, implementing more extensive disclosure of lobbying activity, and ending the revolving door between government and lobbying firms. I gently reminded him that he had mentioned all of this during the debate. But he noted he had not had the chance to discuss his plan to improve public schools with bonus pay for teachers in tough school districts. And he repeated a concern he had raised during the debate: none of the candidates is talking about the 35 million Americans who live in poverty. More time in the debate, he noted, was devoted to discussing gay marriage than this troubling situation. "The debate may have been helpful for people to get a general impression of us," he remarked. "But the substantive differences in our views was hard to tell." Still, he added, "I was the candidate who presented an uplifting message of hope."

If there was any interesting spin, it came from Joe Trippi, Dean's campaign manager. He came to the "Spin Room" with a mantra: the Governor showed that what is different about him is that he got results in Vermont and stood up when it was tough to do so. Trippi repeated that message to reporters over and over.

"Dean didn't say a lot about his campaign as an insurgent movement," I said to Trippi. He replied, "A lot of the focus is on him right now. And there are a lot of candidates who are talking about special interests and change." Trippi noted that the reason Dean entered the race originally was that he "cares so much about health care." Clearly, the Dean strategy of the moment is to present Dean not so much as the maverick assailing Washington--even if Dean still does say, "we want our country back"--but as a gutsy executive who has a record of accomplishment. "We have to establish what the campaign is really about," Trippi said. "It's about a guy who used to come to New Hampshire when no one knew his name, with brochures in his back pockets and talked about his real record on health care and balancing budgets and standing up when it's not always popular to do so." Trippi added, "I don't think New Hampshire is going to let 15 seconds of videotape change that." Perhaps. But for the Dean campaign now is the time to forget about the Dean movement and concentrate on Dean the man.

Can the Dean campaign pull off this transition? Why bother predicting when the answer will come soon enough? One less-than-encouraging sign for the Dean gang: Trippi was the last campaign personality to exit the "Spin Room." By the time he left, most reporters had departed, many grumbling about the low-energy/low-impact debate. The room was close to empty. Trippi had stayed longer than aides from any of the other campaigns.

DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S NEW BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations....Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." For more information and a sample, check out the book's official website: www.bushlies.com.

Bush's Defiant State of the Union

"No one can now doubt the word of America."

That's what George W. Bush told the United States and the world public in his State of the Union address this evening. He was referring to the war in Iraq, which he defended vigorously in the speech. But this remark made it seem he was oblivious to the fact that many people around the globe believe that the war in Iraq demonstrated that Bush's word is worth nothing. Yes, he did make good on his threat to use military force in Iraq. But he misled America and the world regarding Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. Bush chose not to directly address the issue of MIA WMDs in the speech. Instead, he offered a weak argument, noting that David Kay, the chief weapons hunter, "identified dozens of weapons of mass destruction-related program activities." Programs are not weapons. And Kay's report contradicted key assertions Bush and his aides issued before the war. Bush and Company had claimed Hussein had revived a nuclear weapons program. Kay said, "to date we have not uncovered evidence that Iraq undertook significant post-1998 steps to actually build nuclear weapons or produce fissile material." Bush and his crew had maintained they possessed undeniable evidence Hussein had chemical weapons. Kay reported, "Our efforts to collect and exploit intelligence on Iraq's chemical weapons program have thus far yielded little reliable information on post-1991 CW stocks and CW agent production." In his State of the Union address, Bush said, "Had we failed to act, the dictator's weapons of mass destruction programs would continue to this day." But it remains unclear how advanced those weapons programs were. And, more importantly, Bush had not argued prior to the war that Iraq had to be invaded and occupied to thwart Hussein's programs. Weapons that could be slipped to al Qaeda were the raison de guerre. Has he forgotten?

By now, it should be clear: Bush made the word of America dubious. And in this State of the Union speech, Bush continued his slippery ways, as he passionately hailed the pillars of his presidency: his war in Iraq and his tax cuts. Explaining why the war on terrorism must continue, he noted, "The killing has continued in Bali, Jakarta, Casablanca, Riyadh, Mombassa, Jerusalem, Istanbul, and Baghdad. The terrorists continue to plot against America and the civilized world." With such rhetoric, Bush aimed to tie the war in Iraq to the war against terrorism. Yet the link between the two is harder to prove now than ever. The most current evidence suggests that Hussein had no WMDs and maintained no working relationship with al Qaeda. He was a brutal, murderous thug. He was not part of the terrorist challenge the United States faces in the post-9/11 period. But Bush conflates the conflict in Iraq with terrorist attacks elsewhere for the obvious effect.

Bush was confident in his speech. He yielded no ground. "American will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our people," he proclaimed--further suggesting that the war in Iraq was somehow necessary for the immediate protection of the United States. He celebrated the controversial Patriot Act and called on Congress to renew it before it expires next year. "The terrorist threat will not expire on that schedule," he effectively quipped.

His administration, he assured Americans, is doing everything to secure the homeland. "Inside the United States, where the war began, we must continue to give homeland security and law enforcement personnel every tool they need to defend us," he said. But he declined to respond to the criticism that his administration has moved rather slowly to enhance security at chemical plants and ports. He also neglected to mention that a report put out by a Council on Foreign Relations task force (headed by former Republican Senator Warren Rudman) noted that the needs of emergency responders are being underfunded by almost $100 billion over the next five years.

Of course, in Bush-land the American economy is doing just swell. Bush cited the obvious stats, concentrating on the recent boost in economic growth. But he also reported, "jobs are on the rise." Does he not read the newspapers? (Oh, I forgot: he has told interviewers that he does not bother with the daily papers.) In December, Bush's "strong" economy created 1000 jobs. That's less than the number of people who attend the average Bush fundraiser. And on Planet Bush, there are no problems with his No Child Left Behind Act--which has been blasted by educators across the country for shackling school systems with arbitrary tests and standards that can cause more harm than good and for shortchanging schools on funds.

Bush proposed more tax cuts and said there was no reason to fret about budget deficits. He urged Congress to extend the various tax cuts it passed last year. "Unless you act," he said, "Americans face a tax increase. What the Congress has given, the Congress should not take away. For the sake of job growth, the tax cuts you passed should be permanent." This was a disingenuous statement. There is nothing wrong with Congress providing temporary tax breaks. In fact, Republicans put expiration dates on the tax cuts in order to keep the size of the package down and within budgetary limits. As for job growth, there is no proof yet (it may come; it may not) that the recent tax cuts will stir significant job growth.

Bush claimed that the budget he will soon send to Congress will "cut the deficit in half over the next five years." Here was the latest installment in a long run of fuzzy math. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Bush's projections "show a large decline in the deficit by 2009 only because the [Office of Management and Budget] figures will omit a series of very likely or inevitable costs in taxes, defense spending, and other areas." The center explains:

"A series of analyses -- including analyses by the Brookings Institution, Goldman-Sachs, and a joint analysis by the business-led Committee for Economic Development, the Concord Coalition, and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities -- all have found that recent budget projections omit a number of likely costs that must be added back to gain a realistic sense of the budget deficits we face in coming years. The administration's forthcoming budget is expected to have approximately $200 billion in missing costs in the fifth year."

"Specifically, the OMB figures are likely to exclude the costs of fighting terrorism internationally after September 30, 2004; to fail to reflect the full costs of the Administration's own "Future Year Defense Plan;" to omit the costs of extending relief from the mushrooming Alternative Minimum Tax after 2005; and to omit the costs of extending a series of very popular tax breaks."

Using real-world assumptions, the center calculates that the deficit is likely to rise from $374 billion in 2003 to between $440 billion and $500 billion in 2009. It adds, "The administration's contention that the deficit will be cut in half in the next five years thus is essentially an accounting fiction, derived in large part by omitting very likely or inevitable costs, including costs for proposals the administration itself hopes and intends to submit in the years ahead." Let's see Bush keep his word on his deficit pledge.

Bush peppered the tail end of his speech with references to domestic policy initiatives that have been designed either to steal thunder from the Democrats or to jazz up his social conservative base. To achieve the former, he praised the recently passed Medicare prescription drug benefit and proposed a refundable tax credit that would allow lower-income Americans to buy their own basic health insurance. Then he signaled he would support a constitutional amendment outlawing gay marriage and pressed Congress to pass legislation that would lead to greater federal funding of religious groups that provide social services. In a weird twist, Bush did not refer to his recent space exploration initiative. But he did call for doubling federal funding of abstinence education as a means of combating sexually transmitted disease among teens, for devoting $300 million to a program to assist newly released prisoners, and for sports teams owners, coaches and players to launch a campaign against steroids use in professional sports.

"My fellow citizens," Bush said, "we now move forward, with confidence and faith." At least, the Bush campaign does. The speech was a sign that Bush and Karl Rove see no need to modulate, triangulate, or recalibrate. They have nothing to apologize for. Nothing to explain. They are quite pleased with the path they have charted this past year. They will stay the course. They are not ducking. There is no rope-a-dope. That probably is good news for Democrats. Bush is a fixed target, defiantly standing by his policies and daring his opponents to bring it on.

DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S NEW BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations....Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." For more information and a sample, check out the book's official website: www.bushlies.com.

And, read Corn's Iowa Talking Points.

IOWA: Ten Talking Points

1. It's not the movement, it's the man. Voters vote for a person, not the forces he or she unleashes. Howard Dean did birth a movement of sorts. It has been made up in part of political newcomers outraged by the war in Iraq and George W. Bush's lies. The rise of this Internet-fueled activism was the story of the campaign--until Iowa. When the voting started, the only issue was the candidates, not their troops. Dean was judged on his own. And he did not sufficiently impress the caucus attendees. Was it his gaffes? Did he come across as too angry, too unsteady, or not experienced enough? The reasons don't matter. In the electoral arena, a movement can only go so far as its leader can carry it.

2. The war didn't matter. An entrance poll taken at the caucuses showed that 75 percent of the attendees opposed the war in Iraq. But only 14 percent said the war had influenced their selection of a nominee. This somewhat explains Dean's slide. The candidates who had voted to grant Bush authorization for war garnered 81 percent of the vote. The two antiwar candidates--Dean and Dennis Kucinich--attracted 19 percent. Voters who disagreed with Kerry and Edwards on the war were still willing to support them. Why? Perhaps the old cliche of political consultants provides the explanation: elections are about the future, not the past. Even if voters were on the same side as Dean on the war, it did not mean they believed he would be able to beat Bush or be able to handle the national security challenges that lie ahead. Being right only gets you so far. A candidate has to offer more than that. The Iowa returns indicate the war has not yet become an overwhelmingly divisive--or decisive--political issue.

3. Voters want to be reassured, not merely fired up. Dean had the passion. He pumped up the volume. (He shouted like a madman on election night, promising to win the primaries to come.) His message and method certainly struck a nerve and drew hundreds of thousands of Americans to his campaign. But the Iowa caucuses suggest that Dean did not inspire confidence among caucus goer. Are voters--particularly in the post-9/11 era--looking for leaders who not only can express outrage but who can also project calm and strength?

4. Negative campaigning works. Dean's drop was not entirely of his own making. He was battered by his competitors, and the media attention he drew was often caustic. Negative ads tend to take a toll--especially when they are relentless. Unfortunately for Gephardt, his attacks on Dean also appeared to have damaged his own campaign and created an opening for Kerry and Edwards. Is there a lesson here for the general election? Perhaps. Bush will have $200 million or so to spend in the months before the summer. That can buy a lot of mud to hurl at whoever winds up the Democratic nominee. But also the Democratic nominee will have to figure out how to balance his attacks against Bush with a positive, upbeat message.

5. Special interests are bad. Every Democratic candidate in Iowa bashed special interests. Each promised that if he were elected he would do battle with HMOs, drug companies, insurance firms, agribusiness, power companies and the like. On election night, John Kerry stood before a banner that read, "Fighting for Us," and proclaimed, "I have a special message for the special interests that call the Bush White House home: We're coming. You're leaving. And don't let the door hit you on your way out." This was bad news for the corporate-funded Democratic Leadership Council wing of the party, which has often counseled against class warfare or corporate-bashing. Populist rhetoric (which, of course, is different from populist action) reigns supreme--at least for now.

6. Is money enough? In recent years, the candidate with the biggest campaign bank account at the start of the primary process always bagged the nomination. Dean was in that position before Iowa. His money allowed him to create large organizations in Iowa, New Hampshire and elsewhere, and to fund an advertising barrage in key states. But is the money enough to sustain Dean's candidacy? Will this be the year a candidate with less money triumphs?

7. Can the Democrats count on traditional Big Labor? Richard Gephardt had a lock on the industrial unions in Iowa. They vowed to turn out their members for him. But these promises ended up meaning little. Either the labor unions failed to get their folks to the caucuses, or they failed to persuade their people to vote for the guy they endorsed. In either case, Democrats ought to worry about the ability of the large trade unions to produce vast blocs of votes for the Democratic challenger in November.

8. Dennis Kucinich is not acquitting himself well. Kucinich's 1 percent does not provide much justification for continuing his progressive campaign. But he also committed a misstep when he struck a deal with John Edwards and pledged his voters to Edwards in caucuses where Kucinich would not reach the cutoff. Since Kucinich is running as an antiwar candidate--boasting he will pull the troops out of Iraq faster than the others--it was odd that he forged an alliance with Edwards, who has supported the war in Iraq. Why not Dean, who shares Kucinich's opposition to the war? In any event, this tactical move made little difference in the final results. But it did tarnish Kucinich's status as a stand-by-principles politician.

9. Ban the caucuses. Anyone watching the caucuces on C-SPAN--which was the best reality TV of the season--could see that this is a poor way of choosing a nominee. It's not grassroots democracy at its best. It's chaos. In precincts where candidates do not hit 15 percent, rampant dealmaking ensues, as the other camps try to entice the supporters of the under-15 candidates to join them. How do they do this? By offering them delegate slots and by making arguments that often are factually suspect. The final results, then, do not reflect the true preferences of the people who bothered to attend the caucuses. They are a partial reflection, shaped by whatever wheedling goes on while the "voting" is in process. A primary--and direct voting--would provide a more accurate representation of Iowans' wishes.

10. The pundits know what they're talking about. Before the Dean movement--or bubble--fully emerged, political prognosticators pegged Kerry as the front-runner. He had the stature, the gravitas, the experience, the money. He was, many said (myself included), the default candidate. But Kerry ran a poor campaign and spent months failing to connect. He also devoted too much time and energy to swiping at Dean--which made Kerry look desperate and small. But once he stopped flailing, and once Iowa voters got closer to having to make a choice, Kerry returned to his pre-Dean spot: a by-the-numbers Democratic candidate acceptable (if not inspirational) to many Democratic voters. The pundits had that right. But after the surprising results in Iowa, they would be wise not to make any further predictions for the duration of the race.

DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S NEW BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations....Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." For more information and a sample, check out the book's official website: www.bushlies.com.

Powell Retreats on Iraq-al Qaeda Link

What's wrong with the Democrats in Washington? Why has presidential candidate Howard Dean, who was an establishment sort of Democrat as governor of Vermont, been able to tap into widespread disappointment and anger among grassroots Democrats who are frustrated with what Dean calls "those Washington Democrats"?

Here is a small but telling explanation. Last week, Secretary of State Colin Powell held a wide-ranging press conference, his first in months. During this session, he was asked about a report produced by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace that concluded there was no evidence of a prewar connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda and no evidence that Hussein had been likely to transfer weapons of mass destruction to Osama bin Laden's network. Powell replied, "There is not--you know, I have not seen smoking-gun concrete evidence about the connection, but I think the possibility of such connections did exist and it was prudent to consider them at the time that we did."

No concrete evidence? The possibility of such connections? That is not how Bush depicted the supposed link between Iraq's dictator and America's number-one foe. In a press conference in November 2002, he declared that Hussein was "dealing with" al Qaeda. And during his high-profile May 1, 2003, speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln--remember the flight suit, the "Mission Accomplished" banner?--Bush said that Hussein was an "ally" of al Qaeda.

So what did those statements mean if there was no solid evidence tying Hussein to al Qaeda? Prior to the war, Bush had argued that invasion of Iraq was necessary because (1) Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and (2) Hussein maintained an operational alliance with al Qaeda. He claimed that Hussein could at any moment slip WMDs to bin Laden. Consequently, Bush's assertions about the relationship between Hussein and al Qaeda was an essential part of his case for war. Last February, Powell told the United Nations Security Council that there was a "sinister nexus" between Iraq and al Qaeda. Now he was saying his warning of an alliance between Hussein and al Qaeda was based on "prudent" concern, not actual facts. That is not how Bush presented the matter to the American public. Powell's press conference comment offered more--and glaring--evidence of the gap between reality and Bush's rhetoric and was yet another indication Bush (and Powell) had misled the nation on the way to war.

What does this have to do with Dean and the Democrats? As for the latter, apparently not much. After the media reported Powell comments, there was--as far as I could tell--no response from the "Washington Democrats." (Powell's comments about the Iraq-al Qaeda connection--or lack thereof--was reported by the New York Times, but The Washington Post's piece on the press conference did not note this exchange.) A day later, the anti-Bush news focused on the revelations contained in Ron Suskind's new book, The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O'Neill (Bush was disengaged in Cabinet meetings but hell-bent on attacking Iraq from the first days of his presidency). Democratic Party chairman Terry McAullife pounced on these gotcha disclosures, and other Democratic-leaning pundits used O'Neill's much-publicized observations as a club to bash Bush as an out-of-touch president.

But Powell's admission--perhaps more serious--received much less attention and provoked no ire among official Democrats in the capital. Why was that? After all, he was essentially confirming one of the most serious charges leveled against Bush: that he had hornswoggled the nation into war.

In search of an explanation, I called a senior aide to the Democratic leadership in the Senate. Why, I asked, hadn't Senator Tom Daschle, the Democratic leader, said anything? Why not Senator Joseph Biden, the ranking Democrat on the foreign relations committee? Didn't the Dems know that this story would quickly fade unless a high-profile Democrat made an issue of it? Wasn't it worth asking the foreign relations committee to hold a hearing on the matter?

"This is a sad answer," this staffer replied. "The members aren't here right now, so they are not that focused."

Sad indeed. Such events are not always conveniently timed. Can you imagine, I countered, how the Republicans--say Tom DeLay or Newt Gingrich--would have responded had Madeleine Albright, when she was Bill Clinton's secretary of state, had let slip that Clinton had misled the public on a serious national security issue. These guys could have been off on a junket to the Himalayas and they still would have managed to find a television camera with a satellite feed in order to blast Clinton's mendacity. In doing so, they would have been expressing the will of their political base--that is, serving their people.

The "Washington Democrats" gave Powell and Bush a pass on what is the most important topic for a large bloc of their party faithful. No wonder hundreds of thousands of Democrats (new and old) have turned toward Dean. Whatever his liabilities and past positions, he has been representing them--and their concerns and outrage--better than many of the Democrats sent to Capitol Hill to do just that.

DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S NEW BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations....Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." For more information and a sample, check out the book's official website: www.bushlies.com.

Bush's WMD Case Weakens Further

When will George W. Bush say, "We were wrong on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction"?

The evidence--or lack of evidence--continues to mount suggesting that Bush and his aides made false statements about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction before the war. Remember all that alarmist rhetoric? In an October 2002 speech, Bush said Iraq had a "massive stockpile" of weapons of mass destruction. Vice President Dick Cheney claimed "there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction...that he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us." In his famous presentation to the United Nations Security Council, Secretary of State Colin Powell declared, "Our conservative estimate is that Iraq, today, has a stockpile of between 100 and 500 tons of chemical weapons agent."

Conservative estimate? None of these claims have come close to panning out. And it's not because--as some Bush-backers have suggested--Saddam Hussein was so good at hiding the stuff or because he managed to ship his arsenal to Syria before US troops came knocking. An extensive Washington Post front-page article published on January 7 and written by reporter Barton Gellman (and based on interviews with US weapons hunters and Iraqi weapons scientists and heretofore publicly unavailable Iraqi documentation) details the tremendous gap between the Bush rhetoric and the reality. It's not that Hussein was not interested in chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. But Gellman found that Iraq's programs in these areas were either in suspension or far from advanced and that--most important of all--they were not even close to producing actual weapons. The two key paragraphs of his piece read:

"[U.S. weapons] investigators have found no support for the two main fears expressed in London and Washington before the war--that Iraq had a hidden arsenal of old weapons and built advanced programs for new ones. In public statements and unauthorized interviews, investigators said they have discovered no work on former germ-warfare agents....The investigators assess that Iraq did not, as charged in London and Washington, resume production of its most lethal nerve agent, VX, or learned to make it last longer in storage. And they have found the former nuclear weapons program, described as a 'grave and gathering danger' by President Bush and a 'mortal threat' by Vice President Cheney, in much the same shattered state left by U.N. inspectors in the 1990s."

"A review of available evidence, including some not known to coalition investigators and some they have not made public, portrays a nonconventional arms establishment that was far less capable than U.S. analysts judged before the war. Leading figures in Iraqi science and industry, supported by observations on the ground, describe factories and institutes that were thoroughly beaten down by twelve years of conflict, arms embargo and strangling economic sanctions. The remnants of Iraq's biological, chemical and missile infrastructures were riven by internal strife, bled by schemes for personal gain, and handicapped by deceit up and down lines of command. The broad picture emerging from the investigation to date suggests that, whatever its desire, Iraq did not possess the wherewithal to build a forbidden armory on anything like the scale it had before the 1991 Persian Gulf War."

This is a far cry from the Bush administration's prewar shout that Hussein was neck-deep in WMDs. And in the months since the fall of Baghdad, White House officials have continued to insist that Hussein had unconventional weapons and that eventually, as Bush put it, "the facts will show the world the truth" about Iraq's WMDs. The facts keep running against Bush.

On January 8, the Carnegie Endowment on International Piece released a report, WMD in Iraq: Evidence and Implications that complements Gellman's article. It notes that Iraq's nuclear arms program had been suspended for years and that Iraq had focused on preserving a dual-use chemical weapons capability and perhaps a similar capability concerning biological weapons. (Preserving a dual-use capability--worrisome, yes--is much different from amassing a stockpile.) The Carnegie paper also reports that Iraqi nerve agents had lost most of their potency and that Iraq's large-scale chemical weapons production capabilities had been destroyed by the Persian Gulf War and U.N. inspections.

Perhaps the Carnegie paper can be dismissed as the I-told-you-so product of policy wonks who were opposed to the war and who had favored more intrusive inspections. But the administration's own actions indicate there isn't much there there in Iraq. Today The New York Times reports that the administration has withdrawn 400 members of its weapons-hunting team in Iraq--a signal there isn't that much work for them. And the chief weapons hunter in Iraq, David Kay, has said he may well leave his job soon--another sign that a big score is not anticipated.

Two nights ago, Stuart Cohen, the vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council who supervised the production of a prewar National Intelligence Estimate that concluded Iraq had chemical and biological weapons, went on Nightline to defend the CIA's work on Iraq's WMDs. He said he "remained convinced that the work we did was well-grounded." But he also said "we judged that [Hussein] did not have nuclear weapons--indeed, would not have them until very late in the decade." That was not how Bush, Cheney and company depicted the supposed nuclear threat from Hussein. Their remarks made it seem as if Hussein had a major program under way. Cohen did add that the CIA analysts worried they might have been underestimating Hussein's nuclear capabilities (which now seems wrong), but still Bush and his aides turned the analysts' prudent concern into melodramatic assertions, exclaiming that they did not want a mushroom cloud to be the smoking-gun evidence that Hussein had a nuclear weapons program.

Still, Cohen stuck to the administration line that the WMD hunters need more time in Iraq to pursue those elusive (or illusive?) WMDs of Hussein and that "it's too soon to close the books on this case." One wonders how much time the administration will grant itself before reaching a conclusion.

At the end of the show, Nightline host Ted Koppel asked Cohen "how much of a threat" Iraq had posed to the United States. Cohen replied: "We, as I said, indicated that he did not have nuclear weapons. And that while he was in violation of UN resolutions, his missiles could not have reached that far. We were concerned about unmanned aerial vehicles. And at least theoretically, there was a concern at the possibility that unmanned aerial vehicles could be brought within reach of the United States and used. We were also concerned about unconventional delivery of chemical and biological weapons. The ability of Iraqi intelligence agencies to, perhaps, bring something in undetected and use it." Note that Cohen did not mention that "we" were "concerned" that Hussein would slip a weapon of mass destruction to al Qaeda. That was the heart of Bush's case for war--yet now Cohen does not even refer to it as a worry. Of course, the CIA should have been "concerned" about the theoretical possibilities Cohen mentioned--although U.S. Air Force intelligence had discounted the threat from unmanned aerial vehicles. But Bush presented a dire, concrete threat assessment to the public, not theoretical concerns.

Koppel closed his interview with Cohen by asking whether the "dangers" that may have existed a year ago were greater or lesser now: "What has happened that would make those dangers any less, if those weapons are still in the hands of people who are not well disposed toward the United States?" Put aside for the moment that there remains no proof "those weapons" even existed. Here's how Cohen answered: "We worry about what may have happened to those weapons. Theories abound as to what may have happened....But I still worry about when we might first...come across those weapons is when they're used or when we find them in an arms bazaar some place."

That sounds as if the chief CIA official on the Iraq WMD issue does not believe that the war in Iraq has made the United States safer or that Bush's war has done much to protect the nation from the threat it was supposed to eradicate. The war, Cohen suggests, may have even led to the dispersal of "those weapons"--that is, if they existed in the first place. (Note to Howard Dean: start quoting Cohen.)

As of now there is no clear evidence the weapons were there--and no indication Bush is ready to concede he hyped the threat, knowingly or not. The case continues to grow that the Iraqis' denials about WMDs (as incomplete as they were) were closer to the truth than the assertions of the president of the United States.

DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S NEW BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations....Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." For more information and a sample, check out the book's official website: www.bushlies.com.

Never Apologize, Never Explain

Never apologize. Never explain. Never concede. Many politicians--and many Homo sapiens--live and die by these words. But the Bush clan has emblazoned them onto the family crescent. Bush has had a good run of late: US forces nabbed Saddam Hussein, Libyan ruler Moammar Qadaffi declared he would voluntarily abandon his WMD programs, the US economy grew at a high rate this past quarter. All of this has contributed to a Bush bubble, and political commentators are once again diminishing the chances of the Democratic presidential nominee, whomever it will be.

But at the moment Bush's political fortunes are on the rise, more evidence has emerged showing that he deserves less respect than ever. Take the case of those missing weapons of mass destruction. Before the war, Bush said there was "no doubt" Hussein had them. In the months following the fall of Baghdad--as no such weapons were discovered--Bush and his crew continued to insist that Bush had been right to say Hussein was neck-deep in actual WMDs. Then in the fall, chief weapons hunter David Kay reported that his team had found evidence of possible weapons programs in Iraq. (Former UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix has argued that the evidence is not conclusive that the labs cited by Kay were used for WMD research.) Bush and his aides pointed to Kay's report as proof they had been right all along, even though there is an obvious distinction between weapons and weapons programs. And when asked if the administration was backing away from its previous assertions about the presence of weapons (not programs) in Iraq, Bush officials said no. They suggested that Kay needed more time to find the proof. (The Bush crowd has been far more patient with him than they were with the UN inspectors.)

Now Bush--attempting to shift the terms of the debate in his favor--says it did not matter whether or not Iraq possessed weapons before the invasion. In a recent interview, ABC News' Diane Sawyer asked Bush, "Fifty percent of the American people have said that they think the administration exaggerated the evidence going into the war with Iraq, weapons of mass destruction, connection to terrorism. Are the American people wrong, misguided?" Bush replied, "No, the intelligence I operated on was good, sound intelligence." That was a non-responsive but untruthful reply, for the House and Senate intelligence committees (both led by Republicans) and Kay himself have each definitively stated that the prewar intelligence on Iraq's WMDs was loaded with uncertainties. Sawyer continued to press Bush about his prewar statements on WMDs, and he refused to directly address the question, repeatedly asserting that Saddam Hussein had been a "threat." And then he referred to Kay's discovery of a supposed "weapons program" to defend himself. But when Sawyer noted that Bush and other administration officials had "stated as a hard fact that there were weapons of mass destruction as opposed to the possibility that [Hussein] could move to acquire those weapons," Bush countered, "What's the difference?...The possibility that he could acquire weapons. If he were to acquire weapons, he would be the danger."

Hold on. Before the war, Bush asserted Hussein was an immediate threat because he already had such weapons. He never went before the public and said, Hussein may have weapons of mass destruction; then again, he may only have weapons programs; but there's no difference. This is disingenuousness after the fact, backpedalling without acknowledgment. Moreover, after the Sawyer interview, the news broke that Kay had decided to quit his post, supposedly for personal reasons. Reports of his departure were widely interpreted (and probably rightfully so) as a signal that he had uncovered little in the way of evidence of WMDs. And Representative Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, noted that the administration had removed "critical people"--including analysts and linguists--from Kay's weapons hunting unit. This was another sign that Kay and his crew were not close to finding WMDs, and it showed that the Bush administration was not taking the WMD search all that seriously.

Which leads to the question: will Bush and his aides ever admit they oversold the WMD threat? Their case gets weaker by the day. If there had been real WMDs in Iraq, wouldn't at least one Iraqi have turned over information on them to the CIA, which presumably is ready to pay millions of dollars for information leading to real WMDs? Even conservative columnist George Will weeks ago urged the Bush White House to come clean on WMDs. The administration ignored his advice. Rather, Bush officials kept saying, wait for Kay's report. But even Kay is not sticking around for it.

Bush's excuses are falling apart on another front. After 9/11, he and his senior advisers maintained over and over that no one could have imagined such an attack against the United States. That was not so. For years, the intelligence community had collected warnings reporting that al Qaeda and other terrorists were interested in launching a 9/11-sort of attack--using hijacked aircraft as weapons--against American targets. (The final report produced by the joint inquiry on 9/11 conducted by the Senate and House intelligence committees includes a list of such warnings.) And there is strong evidence that Bush was told of a July 2001 intelligence report that noted that al Qaeda was planning a "spectacular" attack involving "mass casualties" against an American target. But by insisting falsely that 9/11 was so far out of the box that no one could have done anything about it, Bush absolved his administration and the Clinton administration of any blame for failing to thwart the assault.

Now former New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean, the Republican chairman of the independent 9/11 commission, says that 9/11 could have been prevented. In a recent interview with CBS News, Kean noted that he would, if he could, fire the government officials who had failed the public. For over a year, evidence has been public proving that two administrations screwed up. But Bush and his aides have refused to acknowledge that. Kean's remarks--which drew much public attention--cast new light on a damn serious allegation that Bush had so far dodged rather well. Kean's commission is due to release its final report in the spring, but the commission--which has encountered bureaucratic resistance--may have trouble finishing its complex inquiry by then.

Another excuse from Bush circles was recently proven phony. In the run-up to the Iraq war, media accounts revealed that in 1983 Donald Rumsfeld had been sent by President Ronald Reagan to meet with Saddam Hussein and broker a closer relationship between Baghdad and Washington. At the time, Hussein was using chemical weapons in his war against Iran. How odd that Hussein's use of WMDs in 1983 did not bother Rumsfeld back then, when in 2002 and 2003 it was cited by Bush officials as a reason the United States had no choice but to invade Iraq. In his defense, Rumsfeld claimed that in 1983 he had "cautioned" Hussein against using chemical weapons. But then The Washington Post reported that declassified State Department notes of the meeting with Hussein indicated Rumsfeld had not raised this subject with the Iraqi dictator.

Rumsfeld then claimed he had discussed the matter with Iraqi Foreign Minster Tariq Aziz, not Hussein. Official records, though, showed that Rumsfeld had only mentioned it in passing. More recently, the National Security Archive found records related to a 1984 meeting that occurred between Rumsfeld and Aziz. According to these documents, Rumsfeld had been instructed to tell Aziz privately that the Reagan administration's public criticism of Iraq for using chemical weapons was not intended to signal the United States was any less eager "to improve bilateral relations, at a pace of Iraq's choosing." That is, Rumsfeld was to tell Aziz not to fret over what the Reagan administration said in public about Iraq's use of chemical weapons; the Reaganites still wanted to cozy up with Hussein.

So the Bush gang has escaped accountability on WMDs, on 9/11, and on the policy sins of their political fathers. Their cover stories no longer hold, yet there are no indications Bush and his lieutenants will necessarily pay for that. The accepted wisdom among analysts of American politics is that voters tend to look forward, not backward. When voters evaluate politicians, they care less about history than they do about present-day results and ask, what are you going to do for me (or us) now? Will that pattern hold in 2004? No doubt, Bush is hoping so. With the Bush clan, politics is indeed never having to say you're sorry.

DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S NEW BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations....Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." For more information and a sample, check out the book's official website: www.bushlies.com.

Saddam Gone

It is not unheard of for good to come from bad. George W. Bush misled the United States into war and occupation. His administration was recklessly negligent in its planning for the post-invasion period. It has poorly managed the challenges of nation building in Iraq, ensnaring the United States in an ugly (and lethal) mess. And he has alienated America from much of the world. Yet Bush has bagged Saddam Hussein, the butcher of Baghdad.

The capture of such a murderous fiend is good news. Hussein deserves to rot for the rest of his days in the underground rat's nest where he was found. But the apprehension of Hussein does not justify the war. In a way, it is the least that Bush could have done, after invading under false pretenses. He told the American public that it was necessary to bomb, invade and occupy Iraq--rather than engage in more aggressive weapons inspections--to neutralize the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. He claimed that his administration possessed incontrovertible proof that Hussein had such awful weapons and maintained operational links with al Qaeda. Seven months after entering Iraq, the Bush administration has not been able to produce evidence to support its central case for war. Instead, Bush and his comrades have increasingly discussed the war as an operation to free the Iraqi people from the repression of Hussein. And nabbing Hussein certainly has allowed Bush and the defenders of the war to push further this after-the-fact justification. Following Hussein's capture, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist disingenuously exclaimed, "The reason we were in that country in the first place are being realized." Not at all. Hussein was found not with WMDs but with $750,000. But what was good politically for Bush was also good for Iraq and the world.

The celebratory tone accompanying much of the media coverage of Hussein's apprehension, though, may be more triumphal than warranted. There was no immediate indication Hussein's arrest would have a direct impact on the insurgency. The circumstances in which he was discovered did not suggest he was playing a day-to-day leadership or coordinating role in the anti-America insurgency. It may be that his capture will discourage the thuggish Ba'athist loyalists who have been attacking US targets and engaging in terrorist actions. And perhaps other Iraqis who had worried about Hussein's possible return to power will now be more willing to support or go along with US actions in Iraq. But it is also possible that if the de-Husseined Ba'athist wane--which would be a development worth cheering--some Islamic forces opposed to the occupation, which previously did not want to be identified with the violent Ba'athist remnants, might feel freer to engage in anti-American violence of their own.

To use two cliches, it's too soon to tell how--or if--Hussein's capture will alter the reality on the ground. When US military forces blew away his two sons, Uday and Qusay, some pro-war commentators were quick to predict a turning point in the war, asserting that this high-profile win for the US forces would surely demoralize the anti-US guerillas. Instead, the counterinsurgency gained strength. Given that the Pentagon still does not have a clear picture of who is fighting the US forces-and why--it is tough to calculate what the snatching of Hussein means in strategic terms. His capture could have little effect on the political transition that has bewildered the White House. Interviewing Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark after the news broke, CNN's Judy Woodruff asked, "What are the issues left to talk about regarding Iraq?" The answer: plenty--such as how to rebuild Iraq, how to revive a government there, and how to end the US occupation. But on the all-important issue of what to do in Iraq, the apprehension of Hussein might not change much.

It also raises the knotty matter of what to do about Hussein. A trial in Iraq? And who would be in charge? The Americans? The US-appointed governing council? Or a trial before an international court, perhaps in the Hague? Imagine the spectacle. Some overly imaginative conspiracy-minded Bush foes had previously speculated that the United States already had Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden (remember him?) on ice and that the Bush administration planned to trot them out as part of an October surprise next fall. That was foolish supposing. Karl Rove is not that masterful a manipulator. But consider how a Hussein trial in the weeks or months before the 2004 election might assist Bush's reelection efforts (and draw attention from the efforts of the Democratic nominee). Who's going to schedule that trial? And will Hussein be given a chance in such a proceeding to challenge Bush's charge on WMDs? Or to provide his account of what Donald Rumsfeld told him way back in 1983 during a face-to-face meeting, when Rumsfeld visited Hussein as an envoy for President Reagan and cozied up to the guy who was fighting the ayatollahs of Iran. At that time, Hussein was using chemical weapons against Iran--a topic that presumably will come up in a trial of Hussein. Last year, Rumsfeld claimed he had "cautioned" Hussein about using such weapons, but declassified State Department records of the meeting indicated he had not.

Slapping chains on a dictator is an achievement. But there remains no reason to believe this dramatic accomplishment for Bush is progress in the so-called war on terrorism. The day of Hussein's arrest, one of the tenuous elements of the tenuous case linking Hussein to 9/11 further evaporated. The New York Times reported that a captured Iraqi intelligence officer whom some supporters of the war claimed had met 9/11 ringleader Mohamed Atta was telling his American interrogators that such a meeting never happened. (The CIA and the FBI had already concluded there was nothing to the allegation that Atta had huddled with this Iraqi.) And on the day the US military disclosed it had caught Hussein, The Washington Post noted on its front page that "al Qaeda continues to receive ample funding not only to carry out is own plots but also to finance affiliated terrorists groups and to seek new weapons." One might wonder if al Qaeda leaders were watching the news coverage of Hussein's capture and snickering, "Suckers."

The war on terrorism's number-one distraction has now been taken out. Let the Iraqis celebrate. Let Hussein be punished to the max--though no punishment devised by mortals can fit his crimes. Let Bush and his crew do a modest victory dance. But let us not forget that Hussein--as brutal as he was--was not the main threat to America and that his capture does not guarantee success in Iraq or the (more correctly named) war against al Qaeda.

DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S NEW BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations....Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." For more information and a sample, check out the book's official website: www.bushlies.com.

Fox News' Occupation Critic

Fox News Channel is considered by many to be pro-Bush, pro-war, and pro-occupation. Yet one of the harsher critics in the media of the Bush administration's postwar actions has been retired Major Bob Bevelacqua, a Fox News military analyst. "Major Bob," as he is called on air, served thirteen years in the Army Special Forces, which included a nation-building stint in Haiti. He also put in three years at the Pentagon. Fox enlisted him as a commentator eight days after 9/11. When not deconstructing developments in Iraq for Fox viewers, he works with William Cowan, another former military officer who is a Fox analyst, in a company trying to provide security assistance to the U.S. occupation authority and private enterprises in Iraq. Bevelacqua, who supported going to war on the grounds that Saddam Hussein was a brutal tyrant and a threat to stability in the region but not a direct threat to the United States, is clearly unhappy with the whole contracting process under way in Iraq--which certainly colors his opinions, as does his time in the Special Forces. After hearing him challenge the administration's handling of the occupation on the air and in the corridors of the Fox News Washington bureau--I, too, am a Fox News contributor--I asked Bevelacqua to spell out his objections and talk about what he saw in Iraq during a recent month-long visit there.

What's going wrong in Iraq?

We didn't make the transition from a conventional war to an unconventional war. That occurred when President Bush said the major combat is over and now we focus on the rebuilding. We were still fighting in a conventional mindset--war done, move on to the postwar--when we needed to be fighting in an unconventional mindset against what was now an unconventional enemy.

Was it unforeseen that the invasion of Iraq would lead to a vicious insurgency? Was there no plan for that?

It was unforeseen by the politicos, but it was foreseen by the guys who had worked in and around the military. Some were looking down the road and thinkin [bad text] tion Provisional Authority (CPA) would look like and who some of the key players would be. They took questions, and I asked two questions. First, what are you going to do with the military? Then what are you going to do with the police? There was no answer. I got a shoulder shrug: "We don't know." So I got on my soap box for 30 seconds and went over what happened in Haiti and the lessons learned. We got the military to become police there. We changed their uniforms and changed their appearances. We gave them classes on human rights. We did not collapse them. The reaction was silence, "Thank you very much, next question." A few of us looked at each other and raised our eyebrows. After the meeting some of us huddled up in the hallway and said, "We don't have a plan." In the small circle that I run within, the Special. Forces, this way of doing business is known as a "guided discovery."

What does that mean?

Go over there and make it up as you go along. If it works, great. If it doesn't, we'll try something else. That's fine if you're making chocolate bars. In this context in the Middle East, it is a recipe for failure--which is what we have at the moment, though that can be changed.

It really was avoidable. Every administration does the exact same thing. You bring in your connected friends and allies, and you give them jobs, appoint them as Cabinet secretaries and other officials. Some do a good job. Some have no skills to do the job. As a prime example I would use [national security adviser] Condoleezza Rice. What does she have in her past experience to allow her to advise the president on all this? She's a Soviet Union expert.

There are a lot of smart guys in the Pentagon, and the ones with the ability to come up with a realistic plan are not going to be heard--especially if they challenge the ideology of the guys in charge. Now I think what we see in Iraq is a classic mission for the Army Special Forces--a mission heavy with civil affairs and psychological operations. It is all about working with the indigenous population of Iraq, period. The Army has doctrine on how to conduct these types of affairs. And it has flat-out been ignored.

If the military--particularly Special Forces--has the experience to do nation-building in conjunction with counterinsurgency, why haven't things gone better?

We put civilians in charge--the CAP--and that was because the Pentagon and White House wanted to control the war without having to go through the military. Now that we are in the phase when large amounts of money are being let out in contracts and private industry has to be brought in, that all has to be controlled by the White House. Is it a coincidence that one of the largest companies that was awarded a contract in Iraq is aligned with Dick Cheney?

I recently spent a month in Iraq, and I did a lot of listening and not much talking, which is not characteristic for me. The way the Iraqis see it--and they call it very accurately--is that there is a lot of corruption in how the CPA has been handling contracts with Halliburton, Bechtel, and the subcontractors. It upsets Iraqis to see subcontractors brought in from South Africa, Germany, England, India and elsewhere to do simple contracts that are not high-tech. They feel those opportunities for work should go to the Iraqi people. It is their nation; they should probably be involved in rebuilding it.

As you know, there's been some debate here about the media coverage of security in Iraq, with the White House and its supporters claiming that the media has played up stories about the security problems in Iraq. What did you see there?

The security situation as a whole is nonexistent. In certain areas and sectors, it is pretty good. But the first day I got there in October somebody parked a car bomb outside the gates of the compound where our offices are in Baghdad. That first night, mortar attacks were fired from the area I lived in, which is only a kilometer or so from where the 82nd Airborne is based. If they could get that close to the Americans and fire mortars, I don't know how anyone can argue that security is good.

The enemy has the ability to fire when and where they like. That's because the civilian population is allowing them to do that. And that's because we have not embraced that civilian population. We have isolated ourselves in Saddam castle behind concrete barriers. Think of the irony of this. We put ourselves in the castles from where he dominated and repressed that country. Who do we look like? The members of the interim council had to be searched before they would be allowed to enter their offices. It was a slap in the face, and they could see foreign subcontractors coming and going into the CAP offices just by flashing an ID card. This is totally unacceptable.

Three days before I left, an explosive charge was placed underneath the generator for our office. The blast took out the generator and blew out a portion of the glass in the office. We feel we were attacked because we were advertising what we were trying to do--that is, use Iraqis to develop information and intelligence that can be used to provide security. None of our guys were hurt. But when the attack came, the security guards we had at our offices disappeared right before the explosion. And the Iraqi who was providing us these security guards--a prominent sheik from Mosul--is working for the U.S. military, too.

Does the Bush administration have a good bead on who--and what--it is fighting in Iraq?

I've seen lists of insurgent forces they have developed, and they're missing one category: disenfranchised and disillusioned Iraqis. They don't recognize that as a potential group these people can create havoc. They think they're onlookers. But these people don't have any jobs. So when they are approached by people in the insurgency with a handful of money and asked to shoot at Americans or plant a bomb, they say, sure, we'll do it. They think there is still a chance that Saddam Hussein will come back to power and then it will have been a smart move to have helped the insurgency.

How angry should the American public be, if at all?

The public deserves to know the truth. There is so much cheerleading on TV. They're not getting the truth. Most pundits care about getting Bush in or out of office. Its politics at its worst. The White House is doing what all White Houses do--spinning. They give their take, which most of the time I find to be inaccurate. I'm an advocate for the soldier. I love my country, not necessarily the government.

A lot of the Democratic presidential candidates talk about turning over the occupation to the U.N. and bringing in troops from other nations. Do you think that's a feasible military option? It looks as if few other countries are eager to dispatch their troops into a counterinsurgency situation, which, as you know, is much different than a peacekeeping mission.

The Iraqis don't want to see anyone else send in troops. We have to use the Iraqi people, use their police force, win hearts and minds. It has to be peace through prosperity. We have to give them jobs. The large contracts may have to go to places like Halliburton and Bechtel, but there should be a law that they only can subcontract to an Iraqi company. Let these Iraqi firms team up with foreign companies if they have to, but Iraqi companies should be making the biggest gains from rebuilding their countries. I spoke to a German who got the contract to restring power lines from Baghdad to Jordan. He said he was going to use Indians, not Iraqis, to restring the lines. He was then told by a prominent Iraqi that the Iraqi people would not stand for this, that Iraqis would be shooting the Indians down from the towers. He had to reconsider. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what is needed. We need to use cross-cultural communication skills to understand the environment and create peace through prosperity. We need the Iraqis to do their own intelligence network, their own security, their own rebuilding.

Why don't they share your view at the White House and the Pentagon?

Ignorance--they just don't know how unconventional war is fought. And arrogance--an inability to listen to the suggestions from others. And there is some professional jealousy. The civilians in the Pentagon don't want to see the Special Forces guys handed another mission.

I thought going to war in Iraq was a good thing. But we are screwing it up. If we change our policies and truly work with the Iraqi people, things can change. If they do not change, we will have another Beirut, another Somalia. We will end up leaving, and it will implode. And that will give us negative PR in the eyes of 1.6 billion Muslims. This is the Super Bowl. Look, we trained and advised the Afghanistan mujaheddin [who battled the Soviet Union in the 1980s] and some of them managed to fight against us later. Our ability to screw things up is immense.

DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S NEW BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations....Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." For more information and a sample, check out the book's official website: www.bushlies.com.

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