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The Uncovered War: Permanent Bases in Iraq

Looked at in a clear-eyed way, almost all the strategies floating around Washington at this moment for "redeployment" or "phased withdrawal" are not actual withdrawal plans. They are complex schemes for hanging on to some truncated imperial presence at the heart of the oil lands of the planet -- and as such are doomed to fail. Like Richard Nixon's Vietnamization program (which withdrew American ground forces while ratcheting up the use of American air power), these are Iraqification policies. But to grasp what they might actually mean, you need to be able to assess two key aspects of our Iraqi venture that mainstream newspapers essentially have not cared to cover–first and foremost, the permanent facts-on-the-ground the Bush administration has been so intent on building there since 2003.

As the New York Times revealed in a front-page piece by Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt on April 19, 2003, just after Baghdad fell, the Pentagon arrived in the Iraqi capital with plans already on the drawing board to build four massive military bases (that no official, then or now, will ever call "permanent"). Today, according to our former Secretary of Defense, we have 55 bases of every size in Iraq (down from over 100); five or six of these, including Balad Airbase, north of Baghdad, the huge base first named Camp Victory adjacent to Baghdad International Airport, and al-Asad Airbase in western Anbar province, are enormous -- big enough to be reasonable-sized American towns with multiple bus routes, neighborhoods, a range of fast-food restaurants, multiple PX's, pools, mini-golf courses and the like.

Though among the safest places in Iraq for American reporters, these bases have, with rare exceptions, gone completely undescribed and undiscussed in our press (or on the television news). From an engineering journal, we know that before the end of 2003, several billion dollars had already been sunk into them. We know that in early 2006, the major ones, already mega-structures, were still being built up into a state of advanced permanency. Balad, for instance, already handled the levels of daily air traffic you would normally see at Chicago's ultra-busy O'Hare and in February its facilities were still being ramped up. We know, from the reliable Ed Harriman, in the latest of his devastating accounts of corruption in Iraq in the London Review of Books, that, as you read, the four mega-bases always imagined as our permanent jumping-off spots in what Bush administration officials once liked to call "the arc of instability" were still undergoing improvement.

Without taking the fate of those monstrous, always-meant-to-be-permanent bases into account--and they are, after all, just about the only uniformly successfully construction projects in that country--no American plans for Iraq, whatever label they go by, will make much sense. And yet months go by without any reporting on them appearing. In fact, these last months have gone by with only a single peep (that I've found) from any mainstream publication on the subject.

The sole bit of base news I've noticed anywhere made an obscure mid-October appearance in a Turkish paper, which reported that the U.S. was now building a "military airport" in Kurdistan. A few days later, a UPI report picked up by the Washington Times had this: "Following hints U.S. troops may remain in Iraq for years, the United States is reportedly building a massive military base at Arbil, in Kurdish northern Iraq."

Kurdistan has always been a logical fallback position for U.S. forces "withdrawing" from a failed Iraq. But so far nothing more substantial has been written on the subject.

There is, however, another symbol of American "permanency" in Iraq that has gotten just slightly more attention in the U.S. press in recent months--the new U.S. embassy now going up inside Baghdad's well-fortified Green Zone and nicknamed by Baghdadis (in a sly reference to Saddam Hussein's enormous, self-important edifices) "George W's Palace." It's almost the size of Vatican City, will have its own apartment buildings (six of them) for its bulked-up "staff" of literally thousands and its own electricity, well-water, and waste-treatment facilities to guarantee "100 percent independence from city utilities," not to speak of a "swimming pool, gym, commissary, food court and American Club, all housed in a recreation building" and it's own anti-missile system. Ed Harriman tells us that it's a billion dollar-plus project--and unlike just about every other construction project in the country, it's going up efficiently and on schedule. It will be the most imperial embassy on the planet, not exactly the perfect signal of a sovereign Iraqi future.

Again, few have had much to say about the embassy project here, a rare exception being an August Dallas Morning News editorial, "Fortress America: New Embassy Sends Wrong Message to Iraqis," that denounced the project: "America certainly needs a decent, well-defended embassy in Baghdad. But not as much as ordinary Iraqis need electricity and water. That our government doesn't seem to understand that reality could explain a lot about why the U.S. mission is in such trouble."

Of course, as we learned in Vietnam, even the most permanent facilities can turn out to be impermanent indeed and even the best defended imperial embassy can, in the end, prove little more than a handy spot for planning an evacuation. But if the Iraq Study Group doesn't directly confront these facts-on-the-ground (as it surely won't), whatever acceptable compromises it may forge in Washington between an embedded administration and a new Congress, things will only go from truly bad to distinctly worse in Iraq.

Next: The Uncovered American Air War (Part 2)

For Hungry Baby, Unfriendly Skies

Just about everyone agrees that women should breastfeed their babies (if possible), but God forbid they ever leave their homes with said babies! The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby's life, saying that the practice reduces diarrhea, ear infections, and meningitis, and may also protect babies against SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome), diabetes, obesity and asthma. Breastfeeding is becoming a far more acceptable topic of public discussion -- even, at times, a fashionable one, with numerous celebrity moms, including Jennifer Garner, Julia Roberts, Heidi Klum, Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie, crediting nursing with their speedy post-pregnancy weight loss. Yet some women do, amazingly, still encounter hostility when feeding their infants in a public place.

According to news reports, Emily Gillette, a 27-year-old New Mexico woman, says that when she attempted to nurse her baby on a Delta Airlines flight, the uptight stewardess gave her a blanket, asking her to cover up. When Gillette refused, the flight attendant threw mother and baby off the plane! Silly Emily--doesn't she know those things are for selling beer and cars? Any other public use is obviously obscene.

Breastfeeding in public is legally protected in at least twenty-eight states, according to La Leche League; many statutes -- including Vermont, where Delta so unhappily encountered Emily Gillette -- stipulate that a mother may breast-feed anywhere she and her child have a right to be. But clearly, as I once heard a civil liberties activist say, the only way to protect rights is to use them. A group of women held a "nurse-in" at a Delta terminal in Vermont to protest Gillette's treatment, and the online mother-activists group MomsRising has a petitionyou can sign to tell Delta to get over its neuroses, and tell Congress to pass the Breastfeeding Protection Act, which extends the anti-discrimination provisions in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to mothers feeding their babies.

Access to abortion gets a lot of attention--as it should, especially in an election season--but it's important to remember that reproductive rights also include the freedom to have and properly care for babies. This incident is particularly remarkable given the hassle many parents faced trying to bring infant formula on planes just after the London bomb threat (when passengers were forbidden any liquids). Let's hope Delta is feeling, well, exposed. I called up the corporate communications department to see what the company had to say for itself. When I explained why I was calling, a spokeswoman sounded nervous, and hastily directed me to an absent colleague's voicemail. I haven't heard back from anyone yet.

A New Day for Conservatism?

I don't mean to distract from Steny Hoyer's big victory as House Majority Leader, about which I'll be writing more shortly. But Republicans are holding their own leadership elections tomorrow in the House--and the results could be pretty damn important for the future of conservatism and the Republican Party.

The races for Minority Leader and Minority Whip pit two establishment, K Street Republicans, incumbents John Boehner and Roy Blunt, against two champions of grassroots, die-hard conservatism, Mike Pence and John Shadegg.

Conservative blogs, magazines and interest groups have enthusiastically backed Pence and Shadegg. "We wish them well in their push to bring fresh blood to the top of their caucus," National Review recently editorialized. "We think Republican interests would be best served by having at least one member of the top leadership who represents the post-2006 party and whose existence in the leadership depends entirely on the reformist members who are not part of the GOP's 'comfortable caucus.'"

Picking Pence and Shadegg would be the type of bold move that could help reinvigorate a Republican Party beset by defeat and corruption. It won't get them back into the majority, but if nothing else it would fire up a dispirited base. All four candidates are quite conservative. So this debate isn't so much about ideology as it is about style and MOs. The question now is whether the Republicans want corrupt leaders or principled ones?

We'll find out tomorrow morning.

Talking with Democracy for NYC

On November 14, I was the guest speaker at the first of a new series of conversations with journalists, policy-makers and activists sponsored by Democracy for NYC--a local coalition group of Democracy for America, the organization founded by Howard Dean after his presidential campaign to channel grassroots energy into vehicles for social change. It was a spirited evening. I spoke briefly, see below, and then a lively Q & A followed.

It's terrific to be here with Democracy for NYC – a key part of the progressive grassroots infrastructure in this country. For me, this election was a "how sweet it is" moment. And I'll never feel the same way about a "thumping."

As Bill Greider wrote this week in The Nation, this was "a deliverance election...the great retribution." It was that accountability moment we've been waiting – and working – for. Progressives all across this country – from old-fashioned precinct workers to bloggers – brought in hundreds of new activists and thousands of new voters. Many of them are disenchanted by machine politics and hungry for a radical break with status quo politics.

This election showed people got it. It showed that Americans are a far better people than this cynical White House took them for with its divide, distract and scare tactics. I've always believed that any politics – especially a progressive one – that takes a "blame the people" attitude as its starting point is, well, dead on arrival.

We celebrated on November 7th. But on November 8th, at The Nation, we understood it was time to get to work. Yes, the political space has been opened; we are back in a reality-based world. Brought back in through what was a revolt – a great "thumping" powered by voters' opposition to open-ended and disastrous occupation in Iraq; rank corruption, metastasizing scandals and ethics problems; and an administration that was out of touch with how people are working harder than ever to keep up. And then there's that trans-partisan issue: incompetence. Whatever trace of competence this White House had was buried in the sands of Iraq and drowned in the floodwaters of New Orleans.

We also know that we can't leave the building of a more humane and progressive future to timid or wobbly politicians in Washington. After all, some of this nation's finest moments, reforms and changes have come when political parties are pushed into action from outside --by independent reporting, by passionate people and popular movements driving their ideas and principles into the electoral arena.

In these next months, we will need a savvy and effective insider-outsider strategy that engages this new Democratic congress. And we're going to need longterm strategies to build a more humane and progressive politics. After all, as Bill Greider points out, "turning around a political party – and certainly a politics – isn't done in one or two election cycles."

A week after the election, let me challenge some of the mainstream pundits, the conventional wisdom, political analysis or, rather, blather that's been forming. Let me separate fact from spin.

Spin #1: "This election was a victory for centrists."

That's way too simplistic and overlooks the fact that 100 or more candidates ran aggressively on populist economic issues – against unregulated free trade, offshoring of US jobs, against special interests and corporate excesses. Sure, a few winning democrats offered conservative views on guns and abortion. But virtually all ran as "pocketbook populists." The so-called Blue Dog Caucus may have expanded – but the progressive caucus did too. And it remains the larger – in fact, it will be the largest – and most diverse group in house – at 71 members. Also significant, at least ten progressive caucus members will chair house committees – including stalwarts like John Conyers and George Miller. And some 35 will become subcommittee chairs. New members like John Hall of New York, Bruce Braley in Iowa, Carol Shea-Porter and Paul Hodes in New Hampshire, Keith Ellison in Minnesota all ran on platforms to bring troops home, promote economic fairness, make elections more honest and government more ethical and promote energy independence.

Spin # 2: "Democrats have mandate – for bipartisanship – not change."

Enough with bipartisanship! It's too bad that partisanship has become associated with cable show food fights. These are times when principled partisanship is needed – as we confront some real and substantive differences--from economic vision (here we're going to have to really challenge the Wall Street wing of Democratic Party too). But already we see the breakdown of bipartisanship on Bush's renomination of six extremist judges for the federal appeals court; on Medicare reform; on the White House's efforts to push John Bolton back into the United Nations; on attempts to push passage of illegal spying on Americans. Is Bush going to sign a federal minimum wage increase and an effective prescription drug benefit under Medicare? If so, as one commentator put it, "then we can all sing bipartisan kumbaya."

Spin # 3: "Congressional hearings designed to restore oversight and accountability are obstructionist, petty, partisan and a waste of time."

For six years, Congress's oversight function has been corroded and atrophied in a one-party Republican Congress. A vigorous examination of the administration's misconduct is not only necessary to restore checks and balances and our Constitutional system, but it is the politically necessary response to voters' overwhelming rejection of the current Congress's failure to assert itself in this area.

Hearings – whether into war profiteering, oil industry influence, excessive CEO compensation, expanding health coverage, the plight of Iraqi vets, or executive branch misconduct – are vital, not only for oversight, but to bring attention to ideas long missing in our national debate, and to lay the ground for more far-reaching legislation. If designed strategically, they will also help change our national conversation over the next two years. And oversight should not be a Republican or Democratic issue; it is for members of the Constitutionalist party – those true patriots who support the rule of law.

Spin # 4: "This was the end of Republican/Bush era – not the end of the conservative era."

A lot of GOP pols and pundits are arguing that this election was a repudiation of the current Republican party – not of conservatives or their movement. But this election marked the end of a conservative era that began in 1980 . The question now is: What comes next? Democrats will need to be bolder, less risk-averse, and speak to people in ways that are relevant to their lives.

(Some of that may mean redefining centrism so that it is not the centrism of Beltway pollsters and pundits. Americans, after all, talk about wanting to be governed from the center – but it's a different center – one that deals with issues that are at the center of their lives. One that seeks a politics that speaks to and includes affordable childcare and health care, quality public education, retirement security, a living wage, environmental protection, clean elections and a principled – not a messianic – foreign policy.)

Conservatism today stands for what? Certainly not the four pillars it used to stand on: less government; a strong defense; lower taxes and family values. Instead, we've had a crude and reckless foreign policy, an agenda of tax cutting for the richest among us, small government has sunk into an orgy of looting the Treasury by corporate cronies, and alliances with religious right have morphed into fanatical attacks on science and education and stem cell research.

Spin # 5: "Progressive bloggers are pushing the Democratic Party too far to the left."

I don't get it. If a large majority of country opposes war, isn't it the centrist MSM types who are out of step with the mainstream of this country? And in more important ways, blogs are democratizing the public square – bringing in those who've been kept outside the political process for too long and challenging the old establishment matrix of pollsters and pundits.

Spin # 6: "The election system worked surprisingly well this time around."

Much of the mainstream media in a semi-instant analysis proclaimed that the electoral system worked well this time. It's true we didn't see Florida 2000 or even Ohio 2004. But it's just wrong to suggest the problems voters encountered on Election Day weren't serious. There were problems that led to thousands of eligible Americans being denied the opportunity to cast votes. We need real, meaningful election reforms – from fixing flawed voting machines to districts that are rigged to be uncompetitive, to ending a system in which partisan secretaries of state decide who can vote and which votes will be counted to abolishing modern day Jim Crow laws and tactics that suppress the vote. Let's do some democracy promotion at home!

This is a moment to celebrate. It's the beginning of the beginning. A chance to reopen our political space and end the assault on our constitutional design. It's a time to loosen the shackles on our political imagination – and work with determined idealism and grounded realism. It's a time to build, or rebuild, a stronger and independent progressive movement in states and communities across this country. It's a time to strengthen capacity, hone strategy and craft ideas.

I'm a great believer in what Studs Terkel said not long ago: "action engenders hope." These are times for coordinated action and thinking – done with passion, moxie, savvy. And for an insider-outsider politics that supports political leaders at all levels who commit to a politics of principle and conviction – not one of contributions and connections.

Murtha Loses--And So Does Pelosi

The vote count is in: Steny Hoyer defeated Jack Murtha 149 to 86 for the majority leader post in the House.

There's no way to spin this: this was a big loss for incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The vote wasn't close. Her ally was rejected. This reflects poorly on her. And it will be remembered by her political opponents--particularly those who want to undermine Pelosi's efforts to enact lobbying and campaign reform--that in this contest she endorsed a fellow who has long been accused of slippery ethics. (See the posting below.)

Moreover, Murtha, the candidate with the most ardent antiwar credentials, lost--and did so decisively. How will this be interpreted (or exploited) by pundits and politicos who oppose the Pelosi/Murtha call for the withdrawal of troops? Murtha champions did try to turn the majority leader race into a debate on the Iraq war. Can the vote be read as an indicator that many House Democrats don't support Pelosi all the way on her opposition to the war?

It certainly is true that these sort of leadership races are often decided (via a secret ballot) not by ideological issues but by personal and managerial factors. Think of it this way: how would you vote if you could vote for one of your bosses? You might not pick the person who agrees with you on policy matters. You might select the guy or gal with whom you have--or could have--the best personal relationship. Or whom you think would be more effective as a manager. Or whom you owe a favor.

Still, this vote will be depicted as a slam on Pelosi and on the start-withdrawing-now Democrats. (It perhaps did show that Pelosi has to improve her vote-counting skills.) Pelosi did not have to choose sides in this fight. But because she fiercely lobbied her fellow House Democrats for Murtha--after first saying she would remain neutral in this bitter battle--she begins her tenure as speaker with a loss that was self-inflicted. Now she moves on to what might be a harder task than getting her fellow Democrats to elect Murtha her No. 2: forging a Democratic alternative to George W. Bush's policy in Iraq.

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DON"T FORGET ABOUT HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR, the best-selling book by David Corn and Michael Isikoff. Click here for information on the book. The New York Times calls Hubris "the most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations" and "fascinating reading." The Washington Post says, "There have been many books about the Iraq war....This one, however, pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft." Tom Brokaw notes Hubris "is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For highlights from Hubris, click here.

Bon Voyage, Rummy

In April of 2003, The Nation called for Donald Rumsfeld's resignation as Secretary of Defense. "The indictment has many counts," we wrote, "from misrepresenting the threat posed by Iraq, to the miscalculation of human and financial costs, to the shredding of international relationships."

More than three years later, this judgement was met with mainstream consensus and national cheers as last week's election results finally forced President Bush to show Rumsfeld the door.

Now, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) is working to hold Rumsfeld accountable for being a central instigator of an illegal war. The legal group's President and co-founder Michael Ratner yesterday filed a criminal complaint in Berlin asking the German Federal Prosecutor to open an investigation and, ultimately, a criminal prosecution that will look into the responsibility of high-ranking US officials--starting with Rumsfeld--for authorizing war crimes in the context of the "War on Terror." The complaint was filed on behalf of 12 current and past US-held captives at Abu Ghraib prison and Guantánamo detention center, and argues that the Bush administration authorized policies and interrogation techniques that led to their torture.

The Bush Administration has refused to seriously investigate the abuses that have taken place under Rumsfeld's command, so CCR has had to go to Germany to do it. Why Germany? The complaint is being filed under the Code of Crimes against International Law, enacted by Germany in compliance with the Rome Statute creating the International Criminal Court in 2002, which Germany ratified.

The CCIL provides for "universal jurisdiction" for war crimes, crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity. It enables the German Federal Prosecutor to investigate and prosecute crimes constituting a violation of the CCIL, irrespective of the location of the defendant or plaintiff, the place where the crime was carried out, or the nationality of the persons involved.

The German Prosecutor has discretion to decide whether to initiate an investigation. CCR is urging people to write to her so she knows that people around the world support this effort. Please urge the German Prosecutor to open an investigation into this case. CCR has a good letter you can send along with contact info. (Note that all letters are in both German and English with German appearing first.)

Needless to say, even a conviction wouldn't put Rummy in the docks. But it would send an important signal to the world that war crimes will not be ignored. It could also crimp Rumsfeld's travel plans! The more of us who write to the German Federal Prosecutor, the more likely she is to open an investigation.



Starve the Iraq War Beast
Help hold the new Congress responsible to the majority of Americans who are saying the Iraq war needs to end. Click here to urge your reps to prohibit the use of funds to deploy United States armed forces to Iraq.

Waxman for Majority Leader?

Frustrated by Jack Murtha's ethical skeletons and stand on choice and guns? Angry about Steny Hoyer's numerous ties to K Street corporate lobbyists?

Well, there should be a third option. Henry Waxman for House Majority Leader! The Los Angeles Congressman is one of the smartest and most progressive and reform-minded members of the House. That's why blogger Nancy Scola launched this blog promoting him. It's time for the "Democrats Eliot Ness," as The Nation once called him, to clean up the House.

Waxman is supporting Hoyer and never had any intention of running. Yet one can always dream.

Luckily in January Waxman will take over the chairmanship of the House Committee on Government Reform and hopefully commence with long overdue investigations into the Bush Administration's bungling of the war in Iraq and Hurricane Katrina, war profiteering by Halliburton, influence peddling by Jack Abramoff and numerous other neglected areas of Congressional inquiry.

So hurrah for that. The hearings couldn't come a minute too soon. But it would be even better if somehow Waxman became Pelosi's number two.

Pelosi Gets Tough

Vin Weber, a former Republican Congressman from Minnesota and top advisor to Newt Gingrich, said something interesting about Nancy Pelosi right before the election. "She will be as effective a Speaker as the party will allow her to be," Weber said.

In the wake of her surprise endorsement of Jack Murtha for House Majority Leader, many in the party and press are already questioning Pelosi's judgement. "The biggest puzzle, and biggest disappointment," wrote Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus, "is Pelosi, who was pitch-perfect in her first several days as speaker-elect." In other words, what is she thinking?

Maybe there is an easy explanation for why Pelosi would use so much of her political capitol on backing Murtha. "Hoyer and his aides have consistently worked to undercut Nancy Pelosi since she defeated him to become minority leader," former Congressman Les AuCoin, a liberal Democrat from Oregon from 1974 to 1992, wrote yesterday. "Now Nancy is backing Jack Murtha over Hoyer, the current Democratic whip. Why would a shrewd operater like Nancy take such a risk before even being sworn in as speaker? Simple: She thinks Hoyer, as majority leader, will work as hard to cut her throat as to perform his duties."

Pelosi needs a deputy she can trust. This race may not be about Iraq or corruption, but about who will allow her to be the most "effective" Speaker. That's why she's going all out, calling members of Congress and urging them to back Murtha.

"She will ensure that they [the Murtha camp] wins," Congressman Jim Moran told the Hill. "We are entering an era where when the Speaker instructs you what to do, you do it."

We'll see.

Back to the Future With Trent Lott

After losing the House and the Senate in the November 7 election, Republicans have been talking about how to create a new and more appealing public image for the Congressional party that has suffered from its association with corruption scandals, crude policies and divisive statements.

Well, the search for the fresh face of the Grand Old Party is done.

Senate Republicans have elected as their "new" whip Mississippi Senator Trent Lott.

The Dixiecrat-defending southerner will now be the No. 2 man in the Republican leadership, serving at the side of Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell – the chamber's leading opponent of campaign finance and ethics reforms – who was unanimously elected to replace outgoing Tennessee Senator Bill Frist as majority leader.

Lott's return to a leadership position comes four years after the Mississippian, who was then the Senate Majority Leader, stood at the side of South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond and recalled the aging legislator's 1948 bid for the presidency as a defender of racial segregation on the State's Rights (or Dixiecrat) ticket.

"I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it," Lott told a crowd gathered in Washington to mark the South Carolinian's 100th birthday. "And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either."

The seeming suggestion that the progress toward racial equality achieved since the late 1940s was problematic for the country reinforced concerns about Lott's sensitivities – especially among those who recalled that, as a congressman, the Mississippian had voted against renewal of the Voting Rights Act and opposed establishing a national holiday honoring slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. There was also the matter of Lott's long association with the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), an outgrowth of the White Citizens' Councils that in the 1960s led the fight against integration and voting rights in the Deep South. The Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Anti-Defamation League had all identified the CCC as a hate group, but Lott continued to meet with its leadership and appear at its events.

So troubling were Lott's remarks, especially when placed in the context of his record, that President Bush declared, "Any suggestion that the segregated past was acceptable or positive is offensive, and it is wrong. Recent comments by Senator Lott do not reflect the spirit of our country. He has apologized and rightly so. Every day that our nation was segregated was a day our nation was unfaithful to our founding ideals."

Shortly thereafter, under pressure from Senate Republicans, Lott stepped down as majority leader to be replaced by Frist.

Now, Lott's back in the leadership, having defeated Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander by a single vote in a caucus meeting Wednesday.

Alexander had been campaigning for the whip's position for more than a year, as part of a plan by the twice-defeated presidential candidate to eventually become the party's senate leader. But Lott upset the scheme.

Why did Strom's friend win? Despite his unsavory past, Lott's much more a "man of the Senate" than Alexander. Many Senate Republicans who want to move away from the harsh partisanship that defined the chamber under Frist's leadership favored Lott over Frist's fellow Tennessean. Republican senators quietly admitted that Lott would be much more likely to support efforts to reassert the role of the party's Senate caucus as an independent entity – rather than a mere extension of Bush White House political and policy offices – than the always-on-the-hustle Alexander.

The fact is that Lott's backers are probably right. The Mississippian owes little loyalty to the Bush White House, unlike Alexander, and as such is probably likely to be a more independent plater.

But what a sad statement Lott's return to the leadership makes: With all his history, it appears that the senator from Mississippi is still the best that Republicans seeking renewal of their party's fortunes can come up with.

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism is being published this month by The New Press. "With The Genius of Impeachment," writes David Swanson, co-founder of the AfterDowningStreet.org coalition, "John Nichols has produced a masterpiece that should be required reading in every high school and college in the United States." Studs Terkel says: "Never within my nonagenarian memory has the case for impeachment of Bush and his equally crooked confederates been so clearly and fervently offered as John Nichols has done in this book. They are after all our public SERVANTS who have rifled our savings, bled our young, and challenged our sanity. As Tom Paine said 200 years ago to another George, a royal tramp: 'Bugger off!' So should we say today. John Nichols has given us the history, the language and the arguments we will need to do so." The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com