In a Veterans Day speech on Friday, delivered to troops and others at the Tobyhanna Army Depot in Pennsylvania, George W. Bush veered from the usual commemoration of sacrifice to strike at critics who have questioned whether he steered the country into war by using false information. This has become a tough and troubling issue for his presidency. A poll taken before his speech found that 57 percent of the respondents now believe that Bush "deliberately misled" the nation into war. That is astounding and, I assume, without precedent in history. Has there been another wartime period during which a majority of Americans believed the president had purposefully bamboozled them about the reasons for that war? Addressing this charge is tough for Bush because it calls more attention to it, and the on-ground-realities in Iraq only cause more popular unease with the war. But Bush and his aides calculated that it was better to punch back than ignore the criticism, and that's a sign that they're worried that Bush is coming to be defined as a president who conned the nation into an ugly war. So Bush tried. Let's break down his effort:
Our debate at home must also be fair-minded. One of the hallmarks of a free society and what makes our country strong is that our political leaders can discuss their differences openly, even in times of war.
Conservative who claim raising questions about the war does a disservice to the troops and is anti-American might want to keep these words in mind.
When I made the decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power, Congress approved it with strong bipartisan support.
Actually, Congress did not approve Bush's decision to remove Saddam. In October 2002, the House and Senate approved a resolution that gave Bush the authority to go to war in Iraq if he deemed that appropriate. At the time, Bush and his aides were claiming it was their goal to force Saddam Hussein to give up his weapons of mass destruction and his WMD programs (which, we know now, did not exist). When the resolution passed---and in the weeks after---the White House insisted that Bush was not bent on "regime change" and that he was willing to work within the UN to force Saddam to accept UN inspectors (which Saddam did) in pursuit of the goal of disarming Iraq. Is Bush now saying that he had already resolved to invade Iraq at this point and all his talk about achieving disarmament through the UN process was bunk? Is he rewriting history--or telling us the real truth? In any event, when Bush did order the invasion of Iraq months later in March 2003, he did not ask Congress to vote on his decision to remove Saddam.
I also recognize that some of our fellow citizens and elected officials didn't support the liberation of Iraq. And that is their right, and I respect it. As President and Commander-in-Chief, I accept the responsibilities, and the criticisms, and the consequences that come with such a solemn decision.
Bush might accept "the responsibilities and criticisms," but has yet to acknowledge the mistakes he and his aides made before and after the invasion about planning for a post-invasion Iraq. He also has not insisted on any accountability for these mistakes. For instance, he gave a spiffy medal to former CIA chief George Tenet, who was responsible for the prewar intelligence failure.
While it's perfectly legitimate to criticize my decision or the conduct of the war, it is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war began.
When was the last time Bush talked about how the war began--that is, when did he mention that his primary reason for war (protecting the American public from the supposed WMD threat posed by Saddam Hussein) was discredited by reality? Is ignoring history the same as rewriting it?
Some Democrats and anti-war critics are now claiming we manipulated the intelligence and misled the American people about why we went to war. These critics are fully aware that a bipartisan Senate investigation found no evidence of political pressure to change the intelligence community's judgments related to Iraq's weapons programs.
This is not the full and accurate explanation of the controversy at hand. The issue of whether the Bush administration misled the nation in the run-up to the war has two components. The first is the production of the intelligence related to WMDs and the supposed al Qaeda-Sadam connection. The second is how the Bush crowd represented the intelligence to the public when trying to make the case for war. As for the first, the Senate intelligence committee report did say the committee had found no evidence of political pressure. But Democratic members of the committee and others challenged this finding. Several committee Democrats pointed to a CIA independent review on the prewar intelligence, conducted by a panel led by Richard Kerr, former deputy director of the CIA, which said,
Requests for reporting and analysis of [Iraq's links to al Qaeda] were steady and heavy in the period leading up to the war, creating significant pressure on the Intelligence Community to find evidence that supported a connection.
More to the point, Kerr told Vanity Fair that intelligence analysts did feel pressured by the go-to-war gang. The magazine in May 2004 reported,
"There was a lot of pressure, no question," says Kerr. "The White House, State, Defense were raising questions, heavily on W.M.D. and the issue of terrorism. Why did you select this information rather than that? Why have you downplayed this particular thing?...Sure, I heard that some of the analysts felt pressure. We heard about it from friends. There are always some people in the agency who will say, 'We've been pushed to hard.' Analysts will say, 'You're trying to politicize it.' There were people who felt there was too much pressure. Not that they were being asked to change their judgments, but there were being asked again and again to restate their judgments--do another paper on this, repetitive pressures. Do it again."
Was it a case, then, of officials repeatedly asking for another paper until they got the answer they wanted? "There may have been some of that," Kerr concedes. The requests came from "primarily people outside asking for the same paper again and again. There was a lot of repetitive tasking. Some of the analysts felt this was unnecessary pressure. The repetitive requests, Kerr made clear, came from the C.I.A.'s "senior customers," including "the White House, the vice president, State, Defense, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff."
Despite Bush's assertion, the question remains whether undue pressure was applied by the White House. And in his Veterans Day speech, Bush ducked the second issue: how he and his aides depicted the intelligence. This is the source of the dispute over the so-called Phase II investigation of the Senate intelligence committee. The allegation is that Bush and administration officials overstated and hyped the flawed intelligence and claimed it was definitive when they had reason to know it was not.
For example, in his final speech to the nation before launching the war, Bush claimed that US intelligence left "no doubt" about Iraq's supposed WMDs. But there was plenty of doubt on critical issues. Intelligence analysts at the Energy Department and State Department disagreed with those at the CIA about the evidence that purportedly showed Iraq had revived its nuclear weapons program: its importation of aluminum tubes and the allegation that Iraq had been uranium-shopping in Niger. (In 2002, Dick Cheney said the tubes were "irrefutable evidence," and Condoleezza Rice said they were "only really suited for nuclear weapons programs." But a year earlier, as The New York Times reported in 2004, "Rice's staff had been told that the government's foremost nuclear expert seriously doubted that the tubes were for nuclear weapons.") The CIA believed Iraq had chemical weapons. But the Defense Intelligence Agency reported that there was no evidence such stockpiles existed. Some intelligence analysts concluded that Iraq was developing unmanned aerial vehicles that could deliver chemical or biological weapons. The experts on UAVs at the Air Force thought this was not so. Was Bush speaking accurately when he told the public--and the world--there was "no doubt"?
Also, did Bush make specific claims unsupported by the intelligence? The National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, produced in October 2002, maintained that Iraq had an active biological research and development program. Bush publicly said Iraq had "stockpiles" of biological weapons. There is a difference between an R&D program (which Iraq did not have) and warehouses loaded with ready-to-go weapons (which Bush implied existed). How did an R&D program become stockpiles? This is as intriguing a question as how those sixteen words about Iraq's alleged pursuit of uranium in Africa became embedded in the State of the Union speech Bush delivered in early 2003.
Don't forget about DAVID CORN's BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on Ahmad Chalabi's weak defense, the Rove/Libby scandal, the slow Phase II review of prewar intellience, and other in-the-news matters.
On the key issue of Saddam Hussein's alleged connection to al Qaeda, Bush also made statements that went beyond the intelligence. This link was crucial to the case for war, for Bush and other hawks were arguing that Saddam Hussein could slip his WMDs to his pal Osama bin Laden. Bush claimed that Saddam Hussein was "dealing with" al Qaeda. But his intelligence agencies had not reached that conclusion. (And the 9/11 Commission later said there was no evidence of collusion between al Qaeda and Saddam.) So how did Bush come to make such a statement? Recently, Senator Carl Levin, a Democrat, released formerly classified material showing that before the war when Bush, Cheney, Colin Powell and other administration officials cited evidence that Iraq had been training al Qaeda operatives in the use of bombs and other weapons, Bush and these officials were relying on the statements of a captured al Qaeda member whose claims had been discounted by the Defense Intelligence Agency. Once more, how had Bush and his senior aides come to disseminate specific and provocative information deemed unreliable by the intelligence community?
Bush's Veterans Days comments addressed none of this.
They also know that intelligence agencies from around the world agreed with our assessment of Saddam Hussein.
The people with the most hands-on information regarding WMDs in Iraq did not. The International Atomic Energy Agency, led by recent Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei, concluded weeks before the war (after their inspectors had returned to Iraq) that Saddam Hussein had not revived the nuclear weapons program that the IAEA had dismantled in the mid-1990s. And Hans Blix, head of the UN inspectors in Iraq, repeatedly said that his team was not finding evidence of chemical or biological weapons stockpiles.
...And many of these critics supported my opponent during the last election, who explained his position to support the resolution in the Congress this way: "When I vote to give the President of the United States the authority to use force, if necessary, to disarm Saddam Hussein, it is because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a threat, and a grave threat, to our security." That's why more than a hundred Democrats in the House and the Senate--who had access to the same intelligence--voted to support removing Saddam Hussein from power.
As noted above, the Democrats voted to give Bush the authority to use force when he thought he should--but only after Bush had promised to go to the United Nations in an effort to disarm Saddam Hussein, who, it turned out, was telling the truth when he denied his government possessed WMDs. Even the John Kerry quote that Bush cites contains the to-disarm condition. And several Democratic members of Congress have claimed that they did not see all the intelligence that was available to the White House.
The stakes in the global war on terror are too high, and the national interest is too important, for politicians to throw out false charges.
It's hard to argue with that.
These baseless attacks send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America's will. As our troops fight a ruthless enemy determined to destroy our way of life, they deserve to know that their elected leaders who voted to send them to war continue to stand behind them. Our troops deserve to know that this support will remain firm when the going gets tough.
Who said that "it's perfectly legitimate to criticize" the "decision [to go to war in Iraq] or the conduct of the war"? That was Bush, moments earlier, in the same speech. So which is it? Is it okay to criticize the conduct of the war or not?
By the way, while accusing his critics of falsifying history, Bush never conceded that he launched the war on a false premise--that Saddam Hussein was up to his neck in WMDs--and, thus, as he paid tribute to veterans of this war and others, he did not accept responsibility for sending American troops into battle for a cause that did not exist.
On Thursday, the Los Angeles Times reported that, "In a major shakeup ofits editorial pages," it "...was discontinuing one of its most liberal columnists."
Three days later that columnist, Robert Scheer, had 150 people aboard The Nation's (8th) annual cruise crammed into the Queen's Lounge listening to his take on life, liberty, leisure, lies, the state of journalism and what's going on at the LA Times. The Nation's John Nichols led the conversation. Here are a few extracts from Scheer's spirited sprint through the last decades and days:
"From the company's point of view, it was a dumb move...If only they wereinterested in sales and profits--be better newspapers. This was a stupidmanagement decision, A bad marketing decision...Let's go bland and safe. "
"The publisher is a wise guy accountant, a bean counter from Chicago. These guys come in from Chicago. They don't know the community, and buying the LA Times may be illegal. The Chicago Tribune already owns a TV station in same market and they're going to need a waiver request which comes up next year.The publisher/bean counter's Pasadena golf buddies probably warned him about me--that flaming leftie. Now, (Times founder) Otis Chandler was no liberal but he understood his community. The paper is in decline. They have 300,000 fewerreaders now than when I went to work there nearly thirty years ago....The Times needed me more than I need it...I always have two or three balls inthe air at same time...That's why I teach full-time at USC's Journalism school, do my radio show, write books. It's the only way to live. I've been preparing for this moment for 30 years. I wrote this column for 13 years and never missed a deadline.
Probably the main reason they got rid of me was O'Reilly and Limbaugh made a living out of attacking me, pounding, pounding away and doing mass mailing campaigns against me and using me as a punching bag. But I'm still standing; the paper may collapse....Would never go back to LA Times, and I start at the San Francisco Chronicle next week. They called Wednesday to offer me a column. And my syndicate stood behind me, and the syndicate's editor, a conservative, was quoted in Editor & Publisher saying he was 100 percent behind me. And it's the same syndicate which runs O'Reilly's column.
These bean counters from Chicago are so cowardly that the day after the paper wonfive Pulitzers they flew into LA and met with chief editors at Burbank airport hotel to let them know of cuts. This corporation doesn't understand that the paper belongs to readers and they forget that it's not just shareholders and wider profit margins thatcount." Bob then broke some news: "And this week, they're going to lay off over 70 editorial people."
"They may own the paper but they don't own the readers. And LA is the greatest cityin the world, and it deserves a great newspaper. Send emails and make them aware that if they want to keep readers, they got to be smarter. Let them know readers don't like being treated with contempt. I know there's shock in the Times building; every switchboard jammed, emails streaming in." [One estimate is that close to 10,000 e-mails have come in; on Saturday, the paper ran a series of articulate, intelligent, reasoned and serious letters protesting Scheer's ouster.] "I hear the publisher is walking around in a daze. Didn't anticipate these protests, the level of outrage. Every complaint you send will give space to others who want to do bold, brave reporting."
And don't worry about Scheer. Two weeks from now, he launches his new website, TruthDig.com. "I think of A.J. Liebling, who said 'freedom of the press belongs to those who own one' and fortunately, now I own one. I think of the site as Ramparts on speed."
"I don't like to get bummed out," Scheer said. "Hey, reports of my end are premature. I am not into suffering. Want to enjoy life, act on my passions, write about the truth. And I will."
It cannot be easy being God these days, what with so many of His self-proclaimed followers launching wars in His name.
So the last thing that the Almighty needs is a whackjob calling down the wrath of, er, well, God on communities that fail to follow the instructions in the "Christian Coalition Voter Guide."
But that's what God's got in the person of Pat Robertson, the religious broadcaster who frequently uses his 700 Club television program to pray about weather patterns or to encourage the assassination of foreign leaders.
Last week, Robertson went the next step and began deciding who can and cannot talk to God.
After the citizens of Dover, Pa., voted to remove eight school board members who had attempted to introduce an "intelligent design" curriculum -- which encourages the rejection of science and established views of evolution in order to promote the notion that the universe was simply popped into being by the Big Guy -- Robertson announced that people living in that community are off God's Christmas card list.
"I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover: If there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God. You just rejected him from your city," Robertson said on his Christian Broadcasting Network's "700 Club."
Instead of praying to God, Robertson said the folks in Dover will have to worship science. "If they have future problems in Dover, I recommend they call on Charles Darwin," the television personality declared. "Maybe he can help them."
To be sure, there will be those sincere disbelievers who suggest that prayers to Darwin would be of equal consequence with prayers to the Almighty. That's a debate for another day.
But the choice that Robertson sets up for followers of his Christian faith is false one.
Many of the greatest evolutionary scientists of history and the present day have been men and women of deep religious faith -- with Christians well represented among their number. These scientists have suggested in some of the most thoughtful and elegant essays of our time that the study of evolution can -- and should -- be seen as an endeavor that is entirely in synch with their faith. After all, they ask, what could be wrong with trying to better explain God's creation?
The answer, of course, is "nothing" -- unless you've made a fortune setting yourself up as God's "spokesman."
Robertson and his ilk despise science because it provides explanations and insights that expose their pseudo-religious rants about who is on the right or wrong side of God -- not to mention who gets to pray and how -- for what they are: schemes to scare Christians into voting for Robertson's right-wing allies and writing checks to Robertson's enterprises and causes.
The so-called "Christian broadcaster" is wrong this time, as he has so frequently been in the past.
Despite what Roberston says, the people of Dover can pray to whomever they choose: God or Charles Darwin or even Pat Robertson.
And they can believe, as no doubt most Dover, Pa., voters did when they cast their ballots, that sound religion and sound science need not be in conflict.
Medea Benjamin and Gayle Brandeis ask a good question for today's holiday in a new piece for The Nation online: "On Veteran's Day, when we honor all of those who have served our country through the military, it's helpful to take a closer look at three words that have become so familiar: What does it mean to truly support our troops?"
The best way, of course, to support the troops is to bring them home. After that, making sure they come back to viable jobs, legit educational opportunities and proper healthcare and counseling are all high on the list.
Benjamin and Brandeis also offer a series of concrete suggestions, including sending care packages to Iraq with books, food and other everyday items difficult to find in a war zone; donating to organizations, like the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, that provide help for returning soldiers struggling to put their lives together and supporting groups like United for Peace and Justice, CodePink, Gold Star Families for Peace and Iraq Veterans Against the War, who are out there in the trenches of the antiwar movement.
It also never hurts--particularly as polls increasingly show that opposing the war will be a winning electoral issue--to click here and implore your elected reps to support a quick withdrawal strategy today. For arguments why this is so critical, check out The Nation mag's new lead editorial.
We did it! With the support of thenation.com's loyal readers, Nation Books has just published The Dictionary of Republicanisms--an attempt to call out and decode the right's well-funded efforts to transform American political discourse to suit its political ends. I want to personally thank the hundreds of readers, from forty-four states, who submitted literally thousands of definitions. They were strong, smart, and funny. The book itself is a distillation of my favorites.
Check out a few definitions:
Dick Cheney, n. The greater of two evils [Jacob McCullar, Austin, TX]
Extraordinary Rendition, n. Outsourcing terror [Milton Feldon, Laguna Woods, CA]
Healthy Forest, n. No Tree Left Behind [Dan McWilliams, Santa Barbara, CA]
Voter Fraud, n. A significant minority turnout. [Sue Bazy, Philadelphia, PA]
In the fight against the radical right, it's my hope that this book will serve as inspiration for progressives who have known for a long time that the conservative agenda is bad for America. Slowly, the rest of the nation seems to be waking up to this fact. But we can't be complacent. The right-wing machine was built over decades, and it won't stop simply because its had a few bad weeks.
At The Nation, we will continue to skewer the Orwellian doublespeak of the Republican right, hopefully with your help. The bad news from the White House continues, and we are presented daily with new words and people demanding redefinition. Some recent examples: The Apprentice (by Scooter Libby), Arabian Horse Association, avian flu, Brownie, entanglement (e.g. Judy Miller/Scooter Libby), ethics seminar, federal indictment, To be Harriet Miered, heck of a job, pandemic, Plamegate, Scalito.
So we're once again taking submissions for follow-up weblog postings. If you didn't submit before, now is your chance. Just click here to submit definitions.
If you are part of a book club, work together on the definitions. Or buy a copy of the book and invite some friends over. All proceeds will go to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. And if you happen to know one of the authors in the collection (they are from all over the country), please invite them too. They should be celebrated for their wit and wisdom.
It was a Super Tuesday for Democrats. Gubernatorial candidates Jon Corzine (D-NJ) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) trounced their Republican counterparts, and California voters terminated all four of Arnold's initiatives. Buried beneath the headlines, however, was another crucial victory for the progressive movement: Maine became the sixth and final New England state to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The ballot measure in question--which was was backed by conservative religious groups--would have repealed an amendment to the Maine Human Rights Act passed earlier this year by the state legislature. Yet, 56 percent of Mainers voted to uphold the amendment, which protects gays, lesbians, transsexuals, and transvestites from discrimination in employment, housing, credit, public accommodations and education.
For gay rights activists, the victory has been a long time coming. The first gay rights bill in Maine was introduced in the state legislature 28 years ago; and in 1998 and 2000, voters struck down similar measures that would have banned discrimination against gays and lesbians. The movement to defeat the measure was led by Maine Won't Discriminate, a coalition composed of grassroots progressive groups, the Democratic Party, union members, and local business associations. "On Tuesday, we ended a 28-year struggle in Maine to make sure all Mainers are treated equally and fairly under the law. We are so thrilled that it's finally happened," said Jesse Connolly of Maine Won't Discriminate.
"It was a much needed victory for the national movement because we've experienced so many defeats over the last year over marriage equality," says Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, which boosted Maine Won't Discriminate's efforts with $170,000 of funding, trainings, and hours of phone banking. "It shows that dogged grassroots organizing can lead to crucial wins at a statewide level."
We also want to hear from you. Please let us know if you have a sweet victory you think we should cover by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist, documentary filmmaker and blogger (www.boldprint.net) living in Brooklyn.
Former U.S. Senator Max Cleland, the Georgia Democrat who lost his right arm and both legs in the quagmire that was Vietnam, explained a few years ago that, "Within the soul of each Vietnam veteran there is probably something that says 'Bad war, good soldier.' Only now are Americans beginning to separate the war from the warrior."
Cleland's wise words need to be recalled on this Veterans Day, when it is more necessary than ever to separate a bad war from the warriors who are required to fight it.
The U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq is an unfolding disaster with such nightmarish consequences that is not merely easy, but necessary to be angry with those who are responsible. And Americans are angry. Overwhelming majorities of U.S. citizens now tell pollsters that they believe the decision to invade Iraq was a mistake, and a substantial proportion of them say that the continued occupation of that Middle East land is a fool's mission.
It is appropriate to direct our anger at the man whose determination to wage a war of whim rather than necessity put hundreds of thousands of Americans in harm's way. But it is not appropriate to blame those young men and women for following the direction of their commanders in a time of global uncertainty.
What is truly unfortunate is the attempt by political supporters of the man who is responsible for steering America into the quagmire with those who are stuck in it. Republicans have distributed noxious bumper stickers that declare, "Support the Troops and the President."
To be fair, it is possible to support the troops and the president -- if one chooses to believe that the war was necessary and that it continues to be necessary. But the number of Americans who entertain such beliefs is dwindling rapidly.
For those Americans who think George W. Bush has been wrong all along about Iraq, it is entirely appropriate -- and entirely possible -- to support the troops and oppose the president.
That's what U.S. Senator Patty Murray, D-Washington, did last summer when it was revealed that the Department of Veterans Affairs did not have the resources to provide adequate care for soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq.
Murray, who had voted against authorizing President Bush to go to war, offered an amendment to address the shortfall of more than $1 billion. But her move was blocked by Senate Republicans who claimed that the money was not needed.
Murray kept the pressure up, and her concerns were echoed by veterans groups such as the American Legion, the Paralyzed Veterans of America and the Disabled American Veterans. Richard Fuller, the legislative director of the Paralyzed Veterans, told the Washington Post that the money problems were obvious to anyone visiting VA clinics and hospitals. "You could see it happening, clinics shutting down, appointments delayed," Fuller explained. Joseph A. Violante, legislative director of the Disabled American Veterans, added a blunter assessment, charging that the administration was "shortchanging veterans."
Finally, in the face of mounting pressure from a senator who had opposed the war and groups that were increasingly troubled about the treatment of its veterans, Senate Republicans relented and voted to provide the needed money.
U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, R-Pennsylvania, a leading conservative who is big on supporting the president but not so enthusiastic when it comes to supporting veterans, was forced to admit that, "We were in error. Sen. Murray was right."
To her credit, Murray was gracious, saying of the Republicans: "It was not easy for them to eat crow on this. But as I've said so many times in the last few days on the floor of the Senate, this is not a Republican issue and this is not a Democratic issue; it is an American issue."
Murray's right. In the years to come, as more and more soldiers return from the nightmare that is Iraq, it will be vital for Americans of all political persuasions to recognize that a massive new commitment of federal resources is required to assure that the nightmare does not continue for the veterans of this awful conflict.
Ahmad Chalabi, the Iraqi exile leader whose Iraqi National Council peddled bad intelligence on WMDs prior to the war and who is now a deputy prime minister of Iraq, had just finished speaking for close to an hour in a crowded conference room at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank that has been Central Command for neocons favoring the war. Before an audience loaded with journalists, camera crews, policy wonks, admirers and his own entourage, Chalabi had detailed the challenges currently facing the Iraqi government. He gently criticized the post-invasion occupation. He had cheered the new constitution (even its treatment of women). He had tried to position himself as a populist, citing the constitutional provision that declares that Iraq's oil wealth belong to the people of Iraq. He had claimed the present government has stopped "95 percent" of government corruption. He had maintained that Iraq is "not out of the storm" but that it is at "the threshold of a new era." This was a triumphant moment for him. His AEI appearance was the major public event of a trip to Washington during which he was scheduled to see five Cabinet members (including Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld), the national security adviser, and the vice president. Not bad for a guy whom the CIA and State Department booted from the payroll and a fellow (once charged with bilking a Jordanian bank of nearly $300 million) who is under investigation for supposedly leaking classified US information to Iran that may have compromised the United States' ability to read intercepted Iranian communications. Before Chalabi started talking, several reporters were pondering if any head of state--let alone a deputy prime minister--would rate such attention and so many high-level meetings (though not one with the president). The answer: none come to mind. Despite the troubles and accusations of the past, Chalabi was receiving the royal treatment.
During his talk, Chalabi had avoided all mention of the unpleasant business of the past, such as when Iraqi troops backed by US forces raided his home in 2004. And he had said nothing of weapons of mass destruction--the main reason George W. Bush gave for invading Iraq. So now that it was time for questions, I thought he should be granted the opportunity to address the gorilla in the room.
In 2004, I said to him, you were asked if you had misled the US government by providing it bad intelligence on WMD, and you said you and the INC were "heroes in error." Given that over 2000 American lives have been lost so far, would you today defend yourself the same way--particularly to a relative of someone who has been killed in Iraq? What errors did you have in mind when you said that? And can you provide a direct answer to the question of whether you misled the US government?
Chalabi was ready for this. "The quote is false," he stated. "I never said that." (This direct quote was reported in February 2004 by Jack Fairweather, a correspondent for the Telegraph newspaper of London.) He then went on: "We are sorry for every American life that is lost in Iraq. As for the fact that I deliberately misled the US government, this is an urban myth. I refer people to page 108 of the Robb-Silberman report that debunks this entire idea." That report was produced by a commission appointed by George W. Bush to investigate the prewar intelligence flaws; the panel's cochairmen were former Senator Chuck Robb and Judge Laurence Silberman. And I'll get to page 108 in a moment.
Then Chalabi moved on to other reporters. Moments later, David Shuster of Hardball followed up. He noted that Chalabi had denied deliberately misleading the US government but Shuster observed that "much of the information" Chalabi's INC had provided was "bogus, false and not true." Would Chalabi, Shuster asked, apologize for passing on information "used to frighten the American people into war?" Chalabi stuck to the reply he had given me: "Read the Robb-Silberman report." Shuster shot back: "Do you regret it?" Chalabi stood firm: "Read the reports." In other words, no.
When Barbara Slavin of USA Today asked if Chalabi was still under active investigation for allegedly leaking US secrets to Iran, he said, "I have no knowledge of any investigation concerning me except what I read in the papers." (His lawyer doesn't tell him anything?) And when a CNN producer questioned Chalabi about his turbulent relationship with the US government, he remarked, "My relationship with the Bush administration is friendly. We have a multi-dimensional relationship. This relationship is developing and growing." He noted that Konrad Adenauer was arrested in Germany after World War II by the British but went on to become the first chancellor of West Germany. A role model?
Before Chalabi had to skedaddle to another meeting with another high-level Bush official, he faced one more question on the WMD issue. What do you believe happened to the WMDs? a reporter asked. Were they taken out of Iraq, buried in the desert, hidden, or did they never exist? "This question," Chalabi replied, "is pregnant with implications. Too many people have said too many things....It is not useful for me to comment on it....We are not engaged in this debate in Iraq."
And he was not engaging in it now. Moreover, he had not told the truth about page 108. On that page, the Robb-Silberman commission does claim that "INC-related sources had a minimal impact on pre-war assessments," but it says that the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (the major prewar intelligence summation compiled by the CIA)
relied on reporting from two INC sources, both of whom were later deemed to be fabricators. One source...provided fabricated reporting on the existence of mobile [biological weapons] facilities in Iraq. The other source, whose information was provided in a text box in the NIE and sourced to a "defector," reported on the possible construction of a new nuclear facility in Iraq. The CIA concluded that this source was being "directed" by the INC to provide information to the U.S. Intelligence Community.
Does this passage debunk what Chalabi called the "myth" that the INC supplied bad information to the US intelligence? Instead, the report states that the INC "directed" a fabricator to give information that was false to the CIA. What "directed" means in this instance is not specified. Perhaps Chalabi and the INC did not realize these sources were making it up. But wouldn't sending along a fabricator--wittingly or not--warrant an apology?
Don't forget about DAVID CORN's BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on the Rove/Libby scandal, Corn's appearance with Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, the slow Phase II review of prewar intellience, Samuel Alito and other in-the-news matters.
After Chalabi's speech was done, Francis Brooke, Chalabi's Washington adviser, told me that the INC had supplied "good-faith information" to Washington and that it was "the responsibility of the United States to evaluate that information. We have no way of evaluating that information." That is a convenient escape for the INC: we send you the fabricators, you do the vetting. But Chalabi, for some reason, did not deploy this defense when the television cameras were trained upon him and he was called to explain his prewar activity. He cited a report that no reporter had in front of him or her at the time. How canny.
As I headed for the elevator, a white-haired woman whom I did not know yelled at me, "You should be paid by the CIA!" She apparently thought my questioning of Chalabi was too rough. Her jeer was a demonstration of how the Iraq war has twisted the ideological lines in Washington. Yes, I said to her, only a CIA provocateur working for a left-of-center magazine would dare question Chalabi in that manner, and I cannot wait to get back to my office and receive my payment from Langley. As the elevator doors closed, I noticed in the lift my former colleague Christopher Hitchens, who moments earlier I had spotted planting a kiss of greeting upon the cheek of one of Chalabi's many spokespeople. Hitchens noted that it was indeed odd that The Nation was now in the business of protecting the CIA. He was referring to the magazine's--and I presume my--coverage of the Plame/CIA leak scandal. There was nothing wrong with the leak, he said. The public had the right to know that the CIA was out to sabotage the administration and undermine its case for war. And that right-to-know, he explained, included being told all about Valerie Wilson because she had participated in this underhanded plot by dispatching her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, to Niger on a mission to discredit the allegation Saddam Hussein had been uranium-shopping there.
Hitchens' affection for the Iraq war and its architects--notably, Paul Wolfowitz--is well advertised. But, as I pointed out to him, his justification of the leak was a step beyond. He clung to his position, as he is good at doing. And as we descended, our debate over the leak turned into an argument over the war. I asked him what he thought of his comrades' use of mischaracterized intelligence to grease the way to war. Outside the AEI building, as a few people gathered to watch our exchange, he maintained that Bush et. al. had prudently based their decision to go to war on worst-case assumptions. But, I countered, that is not what Bush had told the public he was doing; Bush had claimed that the intelligence indicated there was "no doubt" that Iraq possessed WMDs. There was much doubt, I noted, and provided several examples. Oh, Hitchens replied, I was being too literal and had missed the nuances of Bush's position. My retort: Bush being nuanced? Christopher, you would not trust Bush to review a single death penalty application, yet you were happy to hand him the keys to this invasion and now you make excuses for how he misrepresented the intelligence he did not even bother to read. Our sidewalk debate fizzled out; Hitchens drifted off to chat with well-wishers.
Chalabi did not make much news at AEI, which, no doubt, was the point. It was not surprising that he ducked responsibility for helping to push the United States to war on the basis of misinformation (or disinformation) and refused to express remorse for sending fabricators into the arms of US intelligence. (I assume his no-apologies stance covers the INC's prewar dissemination of false information to friendly reporters.) This appearance was just another step for him on the road to rehabilitated statesman. "I always knew he would reach this sort of position," said a former US official who was present and who worked with Chalabi years ago. "He knows where the skeletons are for many people. That has always made him very hard to stop. And he hasn't been stopped yet."
Last night was a grand defeat for George W. Bush--and the shrinking Terminator out in California. Let's celebrate Democrats winning governorships in New Jersey and Virginia--an especially heavy loss for Bush, who made a last-minute campaign stop to prop up the slash-and-smear campaign of GOP candidate Kilgore. But even while celebrating, take a moment to consider that every election cycle brings news of record-breaking, stratospheric campaign spending.
This year is no different. The mudbath--better known as the NJ Governor's race--was the most expensive in the state's history. By the time, the raw and negative ads stopped running, Jon Corzine and Doug Forrester had spent some $72 million. In our own city, Mayor Bloomberg pumped roughly $70 million of his own money into beating his weak and decent Democratic opponent Freddy Ferrer. (Anyone reading this blog is welcome to calculate how much was spent per NYC voter.) The real winner in these races isn't the voter subjected to hundreds of ugly, negative campaign ads; it's the local TV stations raking in the dough.
So, is it time to retreat into cynicism about our money-drenched electoral system? As I've written about in this space, the country has seen some "sweet victories" in these last few years when it comes to "clean money" reforms, particularly in Arizona and Maine and, more recently in our own tri-state region--in Connecticut. There's also the long view, shared with me on election night by Nick Nyhart, executive director of Public Campaign, an invaluable organization committed to ending the corruption of our system. There's no question that this will be a long and winding fight. But read on for some reflections, a measure of hope, and some good analysis from Nyhart:
** In our public financing message study last year (done jointly with Common Cause), we uncovered an incredible hunger for a government and politicians that people could count on to put them first--elected officials who would be accountable to them and keep their promises. Now, that may sound obvious, but the focus group consensus we found stretched from low-income African Americans in Bridgeport, CT to upscale conservative GOP women in Orange County--and it all reflected a sense that this is NOT the case now--that their elected officials serve some other set of interests. Getting people to support reform was tied to them viewing reform as an antidote to this condition.
** The flip side of this is that there is a tremendous upside for an alternative politics that's about ordinary people and not about politics as usual. Given the extraordinarily high ranking of corruption in polling data these days (see USA Today's poll--below--from October 26) and the big "wrong direction" numbers out there, a believable "outsider" candidacy (Dean '04 or McCain '00) might well do better in the next presidential election than in the past.
** The Democrats in DC don't come across as change agents (see last week's Democracy Corps poll) and systemic reformers haven't yet forced their issues into the candidate debate. But the public's increasing concern about corruption and the powerful hunger for better politics will push political actors further in these directions than in the past.
** It is, more than ever before, a time for reformers to be bold in their demands and to think outside the Beltway, as opposed to thinking about what can pass within the confines of today's Bush/Frist/Blunt-DeLay configuration.
** Back to the increasing $$$ in candidate races question – these are outliers, but still reflect a trend. From a policy perspective, full public financing (with ME-AZ matching funds for overspending privately-funded candidates) deals with these issues in almost all races and the Vermont case going to the Supreme Court case is all the more important with a campaign-finance reform bill as a backdrop. But the larger significance of these well-publicized races is that they push public outrage about politics further towards reform, as much as the corruption stories.
Well, it's a start…Making these issues a pragmatic cornerstone of a new democratic politics is a formidable task--but a critical one to reclaiming our democracy. And we can fortunately count on Public Campaign to help lead the way.
The last time Democrats elected a new president who had not been a governor was in 1960, when U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy was the party's nominee and the narrow victor of a contest with Republican Richard Nixon. And two of the four Republican presidents since then were present or former governors, as well. So it makes at least a measure of sense to argue that the place to prospect for a 2008 Democratic nominee is in the states rather than Washington.
And, after Tuesday's election in Virginia, Democrats have a new statehouse star. No, it's not Tim Kaine, the Democrat who won a surprisingly easy victory over Republican Jerry Kilgore in the only southern state to hold a gubernatorial contest this fall. What matters as regards national politics is the fact that Kaine will be replacing a fellow Democrat, Mark Warner.
Warner has been boomed as a presidential prospect for some time now, and even before Tuesday's voting there were strong indications that the moderate Virginian was taking steps to enter the race for the party's 2008 nomination.
But Tuesday's off-year election vote in Virginia gives Warner a major boost.
In many senses, Kaine's victory was really Warner's win.
Kaine ran on a promise to carry on where Warner, whose approval ratings are in the high sixties, leaves off.
Warner appeared in almost as many of Kaine's television commercials as did the candidate himself.
And in the final days of the campaign, Warner and Kaine barnstormed across the state's southern counties, where Warner's combination of downhome appeals to sportsmen and NASCAR racing fans and a little bit of economic populism went a long way toward overcoming the instinct of cultural conservatives to vote for the Republican.
The strategy of linking Kaine with Warner worked in large part because Warner has been such a successful governor.
The Warner model of increasing taxes to pay for education and infrastructure improvements, defending the right to choose and promoting racial harmony, and creating economic-development initiatives for hard-hit regions has generally worked well for Virginia. No, the southern state has not become a bastion of progressivism, and there are still plenty of reasons to question whether Warner is the right man to put some spine back into the Democratic column.
But there is no question that Warner can point to some impressive accomplishments in Virginia. A state that had a history of going from fiscal crisis to fiscal crisis now has a surplus and some of the best bond ratings in the country. As such, Democrat Kaine's promise to carry on was a lot more appealing than Republican Kilgore's promise of a return to "no-more-taxes" dogma and financial instability.
Against a Democratic field that is likely to be thick with senators -- New York's Hillary Clinton, Indiana's Evan Bayh, Delaware's Joe Biden, Wisconsin's Russ Feingold, Massachusetts' John Kerry, the 2004 nominee, and his running mate from that year, former North Carolina Senator John Edwards -- Warner's argument that the party needs a nominee with executive experience could have significant appeal. And he will have a much easier time directing the attention of voters toward Virginia, now that Kaine will be sitting in the governor's chair.
With Kaine in charge of Virginia, Warner will have several advantages if he chooses to seek the party's nomination in 2008. First, in a state where the governor is not allowed to succeed himself, Kaine's win is the next best vindication for Warner to a reelection of his own. Also, with a Democrat in charge of Virginia, Warner can hit the presidential campaign trail without fear of having a homestate rival poking at him -- as John Kerry did in 2004, when the Republican governor of the Bay State, Mitt Romney, was dispatched by GOP managers to batter the Democratic presidential nominee.
With Jimmy Carter, the former governor of a southern state, and Bill Clinton, the sitting governor of a southern state,, Democrats were able to defeat Republican presidents in 1976 and 1992, respectively. Kaine's win in Virginia positions Warner to advance the claim that Democrats need to turn once more to a statehouse veteran if they want to secure the White House.
Watch for him to do just that in the coming months.