The Nation

Israeli Turmoil: Leading Where?

Just six months ago, Israeli chief of staff Dan Halutz and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert were riding high. On July 12, they had launched what they were still convinced would be the knockout blow from which Lebanese Hizbullah and its Iranian allies/backers would never recover... And on July 17, despite some early signs on setback in that war, they still seemed very upbeat about its prospects of success...

Now, six months later, how are the mighty fallen.

In early November, I published a long essay in Boston Review about how the flaws in the concept that Halutz used in the war were considerably magnified by the chaos in the decisionmaking of Israel's national command authorities at the very highest level... The result was a humiliating battlefield and strategic reverse for Israel, which damaged all portions of the Olmert government very seriously.

That damage has continued to play out in the Israeli body politic until today. Israel's "Winograd" state commission of enquiry into the Lebanon episode still continues its work, after an earlier inside-the-IDF enquiry delivered a stinging indictment of the role of the chief of staff...

Today, finally, Halutz submitted a resignation that in the view of many Israelis was long overdue. Amos Harel wrote in Wednesday's HaAretz:

    Now, Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz will need to overcome their mutual loathing and decide quickly on Halutz's replacement. If a lengthy inheritance battle develops, that will only deepen the IDF's depression.

Harel also wrote,

    by resigning now, [Halutz] increases the pressure on his partners in the war's failed management, Olmert and Peretz, to follow suit.

Olmert is at political risk not only from the continuing work of the Winograd Commission, and not only from his continued humiliating position in the opinion polls and the apparent collapse of the brand-new political party that he heads, "Kadima"... But on Tuesday, in addition, state prosecutor Eran Shendar announced he had

    ordered the police to begin a criminal investigation into Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, on suspicion of having tried, in his former role as finance minister, to influence a tender for the sale of a controlling stake in Bank Leumi.

So there we have it. A fateful time for Israel, indeed, with its national command authorities in a large degree of internal turmoil, and public confidence in the political leadership at rock bottom.

A situation, I should add, that is also mirrored to a great extent in a Washington whose main center of power-- in the Vice President's office-- seems to march in near political lockstep with its friends in Israel..

For these reasons, over the past day or two I have again become much more concerned about the launching of a "Wag-the dog" scenario. Desperate times for both leaderships might indeed lead to a truly "desperate" search for remedies.

A 50-State Response to Bush

As state legislators grow increasingly opposed to an Iraq war that is stretching and weakening the National Guard and draining desperately needed funds at home, activists and legislators are launching a 50-state legislative response to stop President Bush's Iraq escalation plan.

On Wednesday, the Progressive States Network, MoveOn, Women Legislators' Lobby, Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, and Sen. Edward Kennedy will kick-off the effort by hosting a conference call with activists and state legislators across the nation. The call is at 11:30 a.m. and is open to the public.

"States have the power and authority to speak out on issues that will impact them and their citizens," said Steve Doherty and David Sirota, Co-Chairs of Progressive States Network. "This escalation will have major costs – in terms of human lives, in terms of state budgets, and in terms of National Guard readiness."

Matt Singer, Communications Director of Progressive States Network, added, "The Pentagon has already announced that to cope with the escalation they are removing current restrictions on deployment of the Guard and Reserves. This move has a major impact on states. Guard and Reserve members are firefighters, sheriffs, teachers, and first responders. They are also humans – often with families and children who need them at home. When deployments get extended, we will see fewer men and women reenlist. That spells trouble for the long-term – in terms of responding to domestic emergencies andinternational crises."

The Progressive States Network will work with legislators to pass resolutions calling on Congress to prevent President Bush from spending taxpayer dollars on any escalation without explicit Congressional approval. MoveOn will focus on mobilizing Americans to contact their state legislators and urge action against escalation.

A sample resolution cites, "... the costs to the states of the call-up of National Guard members for deployment in Iraq have been significant, as reckoned in lost lives, combat injuries and psychic trauma, disruption of family life, financial hardship for individuals, families and businesses, interruption of careers and damage to the fabric of civic life in our communities." The resolution also notes that the $357 billion appropriated to Iraq "could fund desperately needed education, health care, housing, nutrition and other social services in our communities… or humanitarian assistance abroad." And that the current federal debt and interest payments "will likely lead to even larger cuts in funding for critical needs in the States."

On the importance of state action, Singer said: "State and local governments changed the debate on apartheid, Darfur, and trade. They have the power to change the debate on Iraq."

And since most everyone other than the Bush administration and the still-delusional neocons recognize the costs in treasure and lives of this human catastrophe, the debate must be changed immediately. Join the call and find out how you can help in your state.

The Denial of Death

The botched executions in Baghdad have revived public discussion of thesordid "science" of killing people in a "humane" manner. Saddam Husseinwas taunted by his executioners as they pulled the trap door on him.This past weekend, when Saddam's half-brother and former secret policechief met the same fate, the hangman's noose tore his head off.

Oh, well, he IS dead. Wasn't that the point?

Civilization has progressed on this delicate question over manycenturies and none has been more conscientious than America. The USgovernment does now and then declare a public need to kill people, butis always mindful to do so in ways that avoid unnecessary pain andsuffering. The victims are presumed to be grateful for this but,unfortunately, not around to express their views.

The Catholic Church, remember, used to burn heretics at the stake inthe Middle Ages--a spectacle of suffering that instructed the populaceon the importance of adhering to the true faith. The French guillotinewas regarded as a technological improvement--swift and surgicallycertain. American industrial prowess took up the challenge and advancedfurther with the electric chair and gas chamber. These methods alsoproved imperfect. The electric chair sometimes fried the person beforeit killed him. Enlightened jurisdictions adopted an ostensiblynonviolent technique, fatal injections.

Now our "allies" in Iraq have dragged Americans back to consider therude calculations involved in hanging. John Burns, the New YorkTimes correspondent who sometimes injects droll Britishunderstatement in his brilliant dispatches, reported that the death of BarzanIbrahim al-Tikriti "appeared to have gone seriously awry." Indeed, helost his head--a vicious practice we abhor when Muslim fanatics employit.

With the thoroughness one expects from the Times, Burns went onto explain the long-established tradition for calculating the "drop"weight of the hangee's body with the proper length of rope needed tosnap the person's neck without also separating his head from his body.As Iraq develops into a more advanced democracy, it will perhapsimprove on this.

All of this puts me in mind of Woody Allen's famous distinction on thebusiness of death. "I'm not afraid of dying--I just don't want to bethere when it happens."

Exactly. That is the American position. It is the preciousness ofAmerica's niceties that mocks our moral posturing. As a nation, we killpeople--lots of them--both in war and on the home front. But, mind you,only for good reasons. And always with surgical precision. We haveassembled massive killing power and will use it, but always withsincere respect for those made dead.

Our advanced technologies allow us to sanitize this process--keep itdistant and avert our eyes from what's really happening. "Shock andawe" bombing is our high-altitude tool for teaching others to respectAmerican power. Dead civilians, including dead babies, accumulateas the regrettable "collateral damage" not to be confused with ournoble good intentions. The other side--lacking our advancedsensibilities--simply kills people, butchers them in old-fashioned waysthat we find shocking.

America has a twisted thing about "death." The mass culture playsendlessly with death as if it were a popular video game (actually,death is a wildly popular video game). Yet we are strangely squeamish.Don't let the children see the blood. Don't slaughter in disrespectfulways. Above all, don't show us the bodies afterwards.

Our nation would be healthier, I think, if we put aside the moralpretensions and looked straight at the reality. Let's see the death anddying--all of it--both at home and in war. The dead convicts, the deadIraqis and--yes--the dead Americans who went off to liberate thosepeople from their backwardness. We are tough people. We could take it,couldn't we?

Years ago, I saw a celebrated newspaper photograph from theLouisville Courier Journal. It was taken in 1938 and recordedthe last public hanging in Kentucky, held in a small country town.People in those days used to gather in the courthouse square and watch.The photographer (his name alas forgotten) did something brilliant. Atthe final moment, as the trap door opened and the body fell, he wheeledaround with the camera and shot a picture of the spectators, men andboys. Their faces were twisted in shock, slack-jawed andcontorted--made horrible themselves by the knowledge of what they saw.

Libby Trial, Day One: Can You Trust Cheney?

"Would any of you have any difficulty fairly judging the believability of former or present members of the Bush Administration?"

In a Washington courtroom on Tuesday morning, federal district court Judge Reggie Walton read that question to the pool of potential jurors, and that was a fair way of summing up the big question of the trial: did Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff lie to cover up his own participation in a White House campaign that was mounted to protect the Bush administration's misleading case for war in Iraq?

Libby is on trial for having made false statements to FBI and a grand jury investigating the leaking of Valerie Wilson's CIA identity. But his credibility (or lack thereof) is a reflection of the administration's credibility (or lack thereof). Yet due to the normal workings of a federal court, Libby will be judged by Washington, DC, residents who are in a distinct minority: people who have not already concluded that Bush officials are not to be trusted.

Libby's defense is that he forgot the truth when he appeared before FBI agents and the grand jury. At issue is what he said about his involvement in the CIA leak. The reality is this: in June and July 2003, when the White House was trying to discredit former Ambassador Joseph Wilson (who was accusing the administration of exaggerating the prewar intelligence), Libby, as part of this effort, disclosed information about Wilson's wife (a.k.a Valerie Plame) to two reporters--Judith Miller of The New York Times and Matt Cooper of Time. After the Plame leak became a criminal matter, Libby (who was not a source for the Robert Novak column that outed Valerie Wilson) told investigators that he had learned about Valerie Wilson and her CIA connection from reporters and had passed this information along to other reporters. In other words, he was just sharing gossip, not official information; he had no reason to know if this hearsay was true.

The problem (for Libby) is this: Fitzgerald has developed plenty of evidence showing that Libby actively sought and received information on Joseph Wilson and his wife before the whole Wilson imbroglio detonated and before Libby spoke to reporters. This information--which noted that Wilson's wife was a CIA officer--was classified. It came to him from the State Department, the CIA and Cheney.

So Libby's faulty memory defense goes beyond a simple I-forgot-who-said-what. What he--or his lawyers--claim is that he completely forgot his own attempts to gather material on Wilson (and also forgot the information he obtained) and that when reporters several weeks later supposedly passed him rumors about Valerie Wilson, this did not jog his memory and cause him to recall what he had previously known. One major obstacle for Libby is that the reporters in question--including NBC's Tim Russert, MSNBC's Chris Matthews, Cooper and Miller--do not support his version of events.

More important, Libby's account relies on two purported major memory lapses that may be difficult for a jury to accept: that after collecting material on Wilson and his wife, Libby had no memory of doing so and that he completely confused his recollection of conversations he had with the reporters. Libby is essentially arguing that he forgot to remember what he had once known but had forgotten.

Yet Libby's advocates claim that Cheney's former chief of staff was the victim of a minor memory slip because he was a busy guy. On NPR the day the trial began, Ted Olson, the former solicitor general and conservative activist, said, "It's true. If you are involved in high-pressure situations....in the afternoon you don't remember exactly what you did in the morning." And when I ran into Lanny Davis, the former spinner for President Bill Clinton and Yale classmate of George W. Bush, during the trial's lunch break, he insisted that Libby might have indeed misremembered events. "That's what happens when you're doing push-back," Davis insisted. If Cheney is called as a witness by Libby's attorneys--as is expected--his testimony will presumably bolster such an argument.

Will a jury go for this? Will jurors believe that Libby, the ever-attentive aide, forgot within weeks that Cheney had told him that Valerie Wilson worked at the Counterproliferation Division of the CIA?

All that will be decided when the jury votes. But first, jurors have to be selected. As Judge Walton, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, and Libby's lawyers reviewed the initial nine prospective jurors--searching for people with little knowledge and few opinions of the case--they found some who said they could not be impartial. One young woman noted that she was "completely without objectivity" regarding the integrity of Bush administration officials. She did not believe them. She was gone. After being extensively questioned, a financial planner conceded that if Cheney's testimony was contradicted by another witness he could not regard the vice president as equally credible. He, too, was excused.

Walton hopes to have jurors selected by the end of Thursday, and opening arguments are scheduled for Monday. But it may be tough for the judge to find citizens who truly have no hard-and-fast views on the honesty of Cheney and the Bush administration. And that's the point.


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.

Obama Steps Up... And Into the 2008 Race

With his decision to file the necessary paperwork to launch a presidential campaign exploratory committee, Barack Obama puts an end to speculation about whether he really is interested in being the Democratic nominee in 2008.

The exploratory committee is political performance art. Obama's not exploring anything. He's preparing a candidacy that, if all goes as planned, will be launched officially on February 10 in Chicago.

So Obama is running.

Now, the question is: How far will he get?

To a much greater extent than the other announced and prospective candidates for the party's nomination, that depends on the immediate response of grassroots Democrats to his prospective candidacy.

There is no question that Obama is a political superstar. That allows him to leap over many of the hurdles that are erected by the overseers of the American political process.

Obama does not need to build name recognition, in the sense that more senior figures such as Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd and former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack must. Even before he delivered the keynote address to the Democratic National Convention in 2004, the Chicagoan was the most prominent state senator in the nation.

After Obama delivered that address to the approval of the delegates--and to generous reviews from most of the political and media class--he secured his US Senate seat and arrived in Washington accompanied by some of the highest expectation ever attached to a new member of Congress.

Predictably, Obama failed to meet those inflated expectations. His relative caution on the big-picture issues of Iraq and domestic civil liberties, combined with some disappointing votes on consumer and economic issues, disappointed many of the serious activists who had been most enthusiastic about his appearance on the national political scene.

As candidates began to position themselves for the 2008 presidential race, however, Obama began to look more and more attractive.

On the list of possible candidates, he was, with New York Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton and Arizona Republican Senator John McCain, one of three genuine first-tier figures--high-profile politicians with what a man who skipped the 2008 race, Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, describes as the "star power" to draw media attention merely by opening their mouths, assemble a crowd anywhere in the country and, presumably, to rapidly raise the money needed to remain viable throughout the caucus and primary process that will identify the nominee.

As Obama made the rounds of state party conventions, fundraising events and rallies during the 2006 Congressional election season, grassroots Democrats remembered his inspired speaking in Boston, rather than his uninspired votes in Washington. And they gave him a welcome that most politicians can only dream of.

The message from the party base was clear: Clinton had not closed the deal. There was an opening for another first-tier contender in the Democratic race, and Obama could take it.

Instantaneously, Obama was a contender and thus began the process that culminated with Tuesday's announcement of the exploratory committee.

Did Obama hit the trail for Democratic Congressional and gubernatorial candidates in the fall of 2006 with a plan to propel himself into the 2008 competition? Perhaps. He is, by his own admission, ambitious. But most of the evidence suggests that he was taken aback by the intensity of the response he got.

Obama's stepped back to consider his options, and he was smart enough to recognize that the opportunity was real and that it might not come again.

So, now, he has stepped up, and in.

By establishing the exploratory committee, he will be able to raise money to hire staff and build a basic campaign infrastructure in advance of the expected formal announcement in February. He'll need it. Clinton and another contender, former North Carolina Senator John Edwards, are far ahead of Obama when it comes to putting together the multistate campaign apparatus that is needed in a fast-paced presidential campaign.

Can Obama catch up? Yes, but only if the grassroots Democrats who have been so enthusiastic about the prospect of his candidacy now turn that enthusiasm into practical commitments in states such as Iowa, where the first caucuses will be held a year from this week, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina. That transition will have something to do with Obama's star power, of course, but it will have much more to do with how he defines himself.

Democrats like Barack Obama. But they don't necessarily know what it is about him that appeals to them.

Obama's challenge is to quickly provide grassroots Democrats with a rationale for his candidacy. There will be a lot of discussion about how he must compete with Clinton, but that's not the challenge. If she runs, Clinton will do so as what she is: a cautious centrist with lots of money and prominent support but with dubious grassroots appeal.

Obama's real challenge will be to make sure that he compares favorably with Edwards. The 2004 Democratic nominee for Vice President has done a reasonably good job of identifying himself as the Democrat who wants to bring the troops home from Iraq and address fundamental issues of economic and social injustice at home. And he has spent a lot of time talking about those issues with the party faithful in the states where Democratic activists and voters will make or break Democratic candidates. Already, Edwards is beginning to attract the endorsements--particularly from labor union leaders and members--and the volunteer base that he needs in states such as Iowa and Nevada. Obama will have to move quickly, and seriously, if he wants to block not just Clinton but Edwards. That is the only way for him to transform his star power into the practical support base for a winning candidacy.

The Cost of War in Treasure and Lives

As Democrats debate how best to oppose President Bush's escalation of a war that has already squandered $400 billion and too many American and Iraqi lives, one of the Senate's best leaders – Sen. Richard Durbin – gave a speech on the Senate floor about the need to move toward withdrawal. Durbin spoke powerfully about the deceptions, denials and delusions of this Administration as it has sold and fought the war – and, most powerfully, about the cost of the war in treasure and lives. It seems valuable, in a moment of peril, to post the speech in its entirety.

The Iraq Resolution on Military Force
Remarks Delivered on the Floor of the Senate, January 8, 2007

Mr. Durbin: Madam President, it was just a few years ago--some days seem much longer--that we considered a resolution in the Senate to authorize the use of military force in Iraq. We cast thousands of votes. Most members of Congress cannot recall too many of them specifically, unless reminded. But you never forget a vote on a war because you know that, at the end of the day, if you decide to go forward, people will die.

It is your fervent hope that it will be the enemy, of course, but you know, in honesty, that it will be American soldiers and innocent people as well. So a vote on a war is one that Members of Congress--most every one of them--take so seriously. It costs you sleep, as you think about the right thing to do.

I can recall when the vote was cast on this war in Iraq. I sat on the Intelligence Committee for months listening to the testimony and all the evidence that was brought before us, listening behind closed doors to this classified information about the situation in that country, and then emerging from that Intelligence Committee and reading newspapers and watching television, saying the American people are not being told the same thing outside that room that I am being told inside that room. There were serious differences of opinion in this administration about whether there were even weapons of mass destruction.

At one point, we challenged the administration and said: If there are weapons of mass destruction, for goodness' sake, turn over some locations to the international inspectors. Let them find them. Once they discover them, it will confirm our fear, and other countries will join us in this effort against Saddam Hussein. But, no, they wouldn't do it. Although they told us there were hundreds of possible locations, they wouldn't turn over any specific location possibility to the international inspectors.

It raised a question in my mind as to whether they were very certain of any locations. And, if you remember, weapons of mass destruction were the centerpiece of the argument for the invasion of Iraq.

On Christmas Day many years later after that decision was made on the floor of this Senate, we learned that more Americans have now died in Iraq than died on September 11. Less than a week after that disclosure, on New Year's Eve, we marked a mournful milestone in the war in Iraq: the death of the 3,000th U.S. serviceman killed in Iraq.

Today, as I stand before the Senate, the Department of Defense reports that we have lost 3,014 American soldiers in Iraq. The 3,000th death is as tragic as the 1st death, the 300th death, the 1,000th death, but the staggering scope of casualties, the enormous toll this war has taken, must not be allowed to pass unnoticed.

America's service men and women are the bravest and best in the world. I know I say that with some patriotic pride, having been there to sit and have breakfast and lunch with them in Iraq, Afghanistan, and their other assignments. I just can't say enough about their courage and sacrifice, just ordinary, young-looking men and women who do extraordinary things.

This last October, with Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, while sitting for breakfast with a group of about 12 soldiers from Illinois, I went around the table: Where are you from? Downstate. Oh, you are from the suburbs of Chicago. Or, you live in the city. We talked about everything under the Sun. We talked about the Chicago Bears, the Cubs, the White Sox, and how things were going back home.

I asked them how things were going. They said: We had to get up early. We had to form an honor guard at dawn because one of our soldiers was killed in the middle of the night by one of these homemade bombs that takes so many lives.

I asked: How often does that happen?

Well, pretty frequently.

We know it does because we read the press accounts. We think of these young men and women and the challenges they face every single day as they risk their lives for America. We think about the families back home deep in prayer that their soldier is going to return home safely.

We owe them so much. We owe them our prayers and thanks for sure. But those of us in elected office owe them more than that. Part of what we owe them is a plan to bring this war to a close, a plan to bring them home safely, a plan to congratulate them as they return home for what they have given to this country.

Last March, President Bush was asked whether there would come a day when there will be no U.S. forces in Iraq. His answer to that simple question spoke volumes. The President said: That, of course, is an objective, and that will be decided by future Presidents and future Governments of Iraq.

Now we are told that in a few days the President will make a major policy announcement about this war. According to reports he is going to call for an increase, a major escalation of the U.S. troops committed in Iraq. The administration carefully has used the word ``surge'' to suggest this is somehow temporary, but we have to listen carefully when the President makes his announcement to see just how temporary it might be for the 10,000 or 20,000 or more American lives that will be at risk because of this decision.

Sending tens of thousands more troops to Iraq is not a change of course. It is not what our top military experts advise. In fact, they have said just the opposite. It is clearly not what the American people bargained for when they voted just a few months ago for a change in our direction in Iraq. It is literally and tragically more of the same. I think our troops deserve better.

President Bush has always said he will send more troops if the commanders in the field said they needed more. In December, General Abizaid, the head of the U.S. Central Command, testified before the Armed Services Committee. This is what the general said. The President told us he was listening to the generals:

Our troops' posture needs to stay where it is as we move to enhance the capabilities of the Iraq security forces and then we need to assess whether or not we can bring major combat units out of there. .....

General Abizaid went on to say:

The ability to sustain that commitment [of 20,000 additional troops] is simply not something we have right now.

That was a statement made by General Abizaid just a few weeks ago. He is now moving on. He is being replaced. This was the advice of the leader of the Army and the Central Command in the field of battle. General Abizaid continued:

I met with every divisional commander, General Casey, the core commander, General Dempsey. We all talked together. And I said, ``In your professional opinion, if we were to bring in more American troops now, does it add considerably to our ability to achieve success in Iraq?''

General Abizaid testified:

And they all said no. And the reason is, because we want the Iraqis to do more. It's easy for the Iraqis to rely upon us to do the work. I believe that more American forces prevent the Iraqis from doing more, from taking more responsibility for their own future.

Last month, the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, the group that was headed by former Secretary of State James Baker and Congressman Lee Hamilton of Indiana, offered a series of recommendations that they say could allow U.S. forces to largely redeploy safely out of Iraq by April 1, 2008. The President has made it clear--although he thanked the commission--that he doesn't share their feelings. He also apparently does not share the views of the Commission that the situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating.

This war began with deception--a deception of the American people about the threat of weapons of mass destruction. It then moved into a phase of denial where we were told over and over: Oh, the Iraqi soldiers, the forces are just terrific; we are getting them ready to take our place there; we are going to stand down when they stand up. As violence ramped up dramatically, as more and more people died, including American soldiers, it went from deception to denial, and now we are in delusion, a delusion that somehow sending more American troops into the field of battle, putting them in the midst of a civil war that finds its roots in history 14 centuries old, that somehow placing our best and bravest soldiers, marines, airmen, and sailors in this crossfire of sectarian violence, putting more of them there, as the President is likely to suggest, is going to bring this to an end sooner.

I think the President is wrong, I think the Iraq Study Group had it right, and I think sending those troops in, as General Abizaid said, gives a message to the Iraqis that is completely wrong.

Think about this for a minute. We sent the best military in the world. They deposed Saddam Hussein, took him out of power in a matter of weeks, dug him out of a hole in the ground, put him on trial which led to his execution. We then gave the Iraqis a chance to vote on their own constitution. We allowed them to form their own government. We have spent $400 billion. We have lost 3,014 lives as of this moment, and the number, sadly, continues to mount. Twenty-three thousand American soldiers have come home injured, 2,000 of them multiple amputees, soldiers who are blinded, soldiers whose lives may never be the same. We have done all this for this nation of Iraq, and now what we ask of them is simply this: Stand up and defend your own country. If you believe in your country and your future, be willing to stand and fight for it. Be willing to make the hard political decisions to bring peace and stability to your country.

That is the message we should be giving them, but instead, this administration's message is we will send in more American soldiers, maybe 10,000, 20,000, 30,000. We will escalate this conflict. We will escalate our commitment. We will build up these forces.

According to two members of the Iraq Study Group who were present when the group met with the President in November, President Bush said he continues to use the word ``victory'' to describe the vision in Iraq because ``it's a word the American people understand.'' The President said: If I start to change it, it will look like I am beginning to change my policy.

That is a staggering statement because, Mr. President, we do need a change of policy. We need to face the reality of what we are currently facing in Iraq.

There are other costs beyond what I have mentioned. There are costs that we feel at home. I voted against this Iraq war--23 of us did--but I voted for every single penny this President has asked for. My thinking on it is very basic and fundamental: If it were my son and daughter in uniform, I would want them to have everything they need--everything. I can quarrel with this President, debate him all day about the policy, but not at the expense of the safety of our troops.

The money we spent there--almost $2 billion a week, over $400 billion in total--is money that has been taken out of America, away from our needs at home, money that, sadly, has been piled up in debt as this administration refuses to even pay for the war they are waging.

We are currently spending about $8 billion a month on Iraq--$8 billion. We are going to be asked to come up with another $100 billion soon and, sadly, that money we spent so far doesn't even include the cost of reequipping our Armed Forces or caring for our veterans who have come home. That is a long-term cost of this war that we will pay for decades to come.

What could we have done in America with the $380 billion or $400 billion that we spent in Iraq? We could have paid for all of the following that I am about to list--all of the following: Health care coverage for all of the uninsured children in America for the entire duration of this war; 4-year scholarships to a public university for all of this year's graduating high school seniors in America; new affordable housing units for 500,000 needy families; all the needed port security requirements to keep our homeland safe; substantial new energy conservation programs. Or, we could have completely funded No Child Left Behind.

Remember that program where we tested our kids and found out they needed help and then the Federal Government didn't send the help? We could have done that.

Or, we could have provided savings accounts for low-income families preparing for retirement, or made a downpayment on reducing the alternative minimum tax.

From my State of Illinois, our share of the Iraq war comes to about $19 billion. With that $19 billion, we could have paid for 2.5 million Illinois children in Head Start, insured 11 million children for 1 year, paid the salaries of 330,000 teachers for a year, underwritten 170,000 new affordable housing units, and covered 900,000 4-year scholarships to public universities.

President Bush has the distinction not just for this policy in Iraq, but the fact that he is the first American President in our history who has cut taxes in the midst of a war. His tax cuts have benefited the wealthiest people in America and left the largest debt in the history of the United States, and every year we remain in Iraq we add $75 billion to $100 billion to that national debt.

Beyond the cost of human lives and dollars, there are strategic costs in this war. Our military is stretched dangerously thin. The National Guard units that have been activated have come home with less equipment. Today, in Illinois, we have about a third of the equipment we need to respond to another crisis either at home or overseas.

We also know that when it comes to combat readiness, there are no units prepared to go into war at this moment.

We have stretched our military so thin. The costs of reequipping these units and rebuilding these services are enormous and go way beyond what we have already spent in Iraq. Investing U.S. troop levels in Iraq will almost certainly prolong our involvement in that nation. It almost certainly will make President Bush's statement that it will be up to the successors to bring our forces home a self-fulfilling prophecy. That is not what the American people voted for in November. Sending these troops to Iraq will send the wrong message to Iraq. It will signal that Americans will continue to bear the burdens of this war.

This year, the British, who have been the most cooperative in helping us there, are slated to pull their troops out. At that point, it will be virtually an American struggle, with only a handful of countries remaining by our side.

General Casey, the commanding general in Baghdad, recently stated:

The longer we in the U.S. force continue to bear the main burden of Iraq's security, the longer it lengthens the time that the government of Iraq has to make the hard decisions about reconciliation and dealing with the militias.

General Casey also said:

It has always been my view that a heavy and sustained American military presence was not going to solve the problems in Iraq over the long term.

These are the generals President Bush said he listens to, and these are the people who are in command of our forces. These are voices which clearly disagree with the escalation of this war in Iraq.

Last week, America bid farewell to a good and decent man named Gerald Ford. I was honored to be at his funeral service in Grand Rapids, MI. He was a man who served at one of the most tumultuous times in American history. He inherited a war he couldn't win. Years later, when asked about that Vietnam war, President Ford said:

My approach was we inherited the problem with the job. It is my obligation on behalf of the country to try and solve the damn thing.

A generation later, our Nation faces a similar moment. We need to work together. We need to cooperate on a bipartisan basis to find a plan worthy of the courage and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform. It should begin now. It shouldn't be left to future Presidents.

If one reads the authorization for Iraq, one understands that the goals and missions of that statement for the use of force have changed dramatically. No weapons of mass destruction, no Saddam Hussein, no threat to America. It is time for us to announce that we achieved our goals in Iraq and now the American people need to hand this responsibility over to the people of that nation in Iraq.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

Bush's Crooked Ways

Does anyone in a Shakespeare play foretell President George W. Bush, who has not only committed more forces to his catastrophic war in Iraq, but now also threatens to attack Iran and Syria?

I put the question to Homer D. (Murph) Swander, a long-time friend and professor emeritus who taught Shakespeare at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

"Henry IV," Murph told me. "He squeaked into the kingship (in his own words) by 'bypaths and indirect crooked ways.' W. should be so honest.

"Henry, then being on his deathbed, advised his son to 'busy giddy minds / with foreign quarrels.' The father-son relationship is upside down, of course, but we can't have everything.

"At the last, the old boy prayed, 'How came I by the crown, O God forgive.' Is it possible to imagine W. ever being so honest?"

(All of this to be found in Henry IV, Part Two, 4.5.184-218.)

Dick Cheney, Scooter Libby and the New Definition of "Honesty"

Dick Cheney worked in the White House of Richard Nixon, who had to resign as Congress began impeachment proceedings that grew out of his dishonest and disreputable stewardship of the presidency

Dick Cheney worked with the White House of Ronald Reagan, which was investigated by Congress and the courts for establishing – and then lying about -- a secret plan to violate the law by directing resources to its Iran-Contra co-conspirators in the Middle East and Latin America.

Dick Cheney worked in the White House of George Herbert Walker Bush, who pardoned former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, Robert C. McFarlane, Elliott Abrams and others who had been indicted, and in some cases convicted, by Iran-Contra prosecutors.

Dick Cheney left the public sector to work in the corporate sector, where he established close alliances with the executives of Enron and hired the Arthur Andersen accounting firm to manage Halliburton's books.

Dick Cheney then stepped back into the public service as the prince regent to a boy president whose administration stands accused of "fixing" intelligence in order to convince Congress and the American people to support an unnecessary – and ultimately disastrous – invasion and occupation of Iraq. As part of that initiative Cheney has repeatedly been caught promoting inaccurate claims about the supposed presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and an illusory "connection" between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.

Now, as he prepares to testify in the trial that is set to begin Tuesday on the charges of obstruction of justice and perjury that have been brought against his disgraced former chief-of-staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Cheney says of Libby: "I believe he's one of the more honest men I know."

Cheney has refused repeated requests by members of Congress who want him to testify regarding Libby's actions and the efforts of the vice president's office to discredit retired Ambassador Joe Wilson, the man who exposed one of the administration's most serious assaults on the truth – the pre-war claim that Iraq was taking steps to rapidly develop a nuclear arsenal. Yet, the vice president told Fox News anchor Chris Wallace on Sunday that he plans to offer "my whole-hearted cooperation" to Libby's legal defense.

Wallace wanted to know whether the vice president was at all concerned by the many revelations regarding Libby's professional and personal problems. "But there's nothing that you have heard," the anchor asked, "nothing that you have read that shakes your confidence in Scooter Libby's integrity?

"That's correct," replied Cheney.

Libby, the vice president exclaimed, is ``one of the finest individuals I've ever known.''

There will be those who question whether the vice president can possibly be serious when he expresses confidence in what remains of Libby's integrity and describes his longtime aide as "one of the most honest men I know."

But let's put this in perspective. After almost four decades of working with the likes of Richard Nixon, the Iran-Contra conspirators, Enron and its accountants, Cheney might actually be telling the truth here.

In the circles in which Cheney has traveled throughout his career, Libby might come off as a paragon of virtue and veracity. That ought not much trouble prosecutors, however. The vice president is his own man, and he plays by his own set of rules. Just as Cheney has never felt constrained by any Constitutional definition of duty to the republic, nor has he ever provided even the slightest indication that he is familiar with the textbook definition of "honesty" – let alone with the notion that an official ought to value that quality in those with whom he chooses to associate.

John Nichols's book, The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Most Powerful Vice President in American History (The New Press), is available nationwide at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com. Publisher's Weekly describes it as "a Fahrenheit 9/11 for Cheney" and Esquire magazine says it "reveals the inner Cheney."

"24": Torture on TV

"24" is back on Fox TV. The hit show starring Kiefer Sutherland, which premiered Sunday night, once again features at least one big torture scene in every episode – the kind of torture the Bush White House says is necessary to protect us from you-know-who.

The show is much more successful than the White House at making the case for torture. Its ratings have gone steadily up over the last five years, while Bush's ratings have gone steadily down.

In "24," Sutherland plays special agent Jack Bauer, head of the Counter Terrorism Unit. He fights some of his biggest battles not with the dark-skinned enemies trying to nuke L.A., but rather with the light-skinned do-gooders who think the head of the Counter Terrorism Unit should follow the rules.

Back in season four, for example, the bumbling bureaucrats released a captured terrorist before he could be tortured, because a lawyer for "Amnesty Global" showed up whining about the Geneva Conventions. Jack had to quit the Counter Terrorist Unit and become a private citizen in order to break the suspect's fingers.

It's especially unfortunate to see Kiefer Sutherland play the world's most popular torturer, because his father, Donald Sutherland, has been a prominent antiwar activist since Vietnam days and starred in some great films critiquing fascist politics, including "MASH" and Bertolucci's "1900." It's unfortunate also because Kiefer's grandfather, Tommy Douglas, was Canada's first socialist premier, and was recently voted "the greatest Canadian of all time" -- because he introduced universal public health care to Canada.

The grandson meanwhile is being paid $10 million a season by Rupert Murdoch to shoot kneecaps, chop off hands, and bite his enemies to death (Sunday's special thrill).

The show's connection to the Bush White House and the conservative establishment became explicit last June, when Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff appeared alongside the show's producers and three cast members at an event sponsored by the Heritage Foundation to discuss "The public image of US terrorism policy." The discussion was moderated by Rush Limbaugh. The C-SPAN store sells a DVD of the event--price reduced from $60 to $29.95.

Sunday night's two-hour premiere again argued not just that torture is necessary but also that it works. And it's also really exciting to watch. The show as usual made the "ticking time bomb" case for torture: we need to torture a suspect, or else thousands, or millions, will die in the next hour.

It's the same case made by Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who proposed that judges ought to issue torture warrants in the "rare 'ticking bomb' case," and by University of Chicago law professor and federal judge Richard Posner, who has written, "If torture is the only means of obtaining the information necessary to prevent the detonation of a nuclear bomb in Times Square, torture should be used." He added that "no one who doubts that this is the case should be in a position of responsibility."

Thanks to "24," tens of millions of TV viewers know exactly what Dershowitz and Posner are talking about. As Richard Kim pointed out in The Nation in 2005, those are the cases where "the stakes are dire, the information perfect and the authorities omniscient." Of course that's a fantasy of total knowledge and power, and of course the US has never had a real "ticking time bomb" case--but Jack Bauer faces one every Sunday night on Fox.