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Who is the most outspoken and through-provoking Senate critic of the Bush administration's misguided foreign policies?
Hint: The boldest opposition voice is not that of a Democrat.
Over the course of the past week, Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, a maverick conservative Republican from Nebraska, has scored the administration for its misguided approaches in language far wiser and bolder than the empty stream of rhetoric that continues to pass the lips of his Democratic colleagues.
Here's Hagel on Iraq: "[The occupation's] an absolute replay of Vietnam." The Vietnam veteran deplored the fact that U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq had become "easy targets" in a country that he told the Omaha World Herald had descended into "absolute anarchy." Hagel condemned the decision of the Bush administration and its rubberstamping Pentagon to suspend military rotations and add new troops in Iraq -- increasing the size of the occupation force from 130,000 to 135,000. "That isn't going to do any good. It's going to have a worse effect," argues Hagel. "They're destroying the United States Army."
More significantly, here's Hagel on the failure of the United States to use its influence with Israel to end the killing of innocent Lebanese men, women and children and the destruction of that country's civilian infrastructure: "How do we realistically believe that a continuation of the systematic destruction of an American friend -- the country and people of Lebanon -- is going to enhance America's image and give us the trust and credibility to lead a lasting and sustained peace effort in the Middle East? The sickening slaughter on both sides must end now," Hagel said on the Senate floor. Delivering the message that should be coming from the opposition party, the senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee declared: "President Bush must call for an immediate cease fire. This madness must stop."
Most significantly of all, here's Hagel making the connection between the occupation of Iraq and the broader Middle East crisis: "America is bogged down in Iraq, and this is limiting our diplomatic and military options." Because the Bush administration deals in unreasonable "absolutes" when it approaches disputes in the region, the senator said, the United States in no longer seen as the "wellspring of consensus" that might be able to develop multi-national support for peace initiatives.
Finally, here's Hagel on what the U.S. should be doing in the Middle East: "We know that without engaged and active American leadership, the world is more dangerous," explains the senator, who has been talked about as a possible 2008 presidential contender. So, he says, the U.S. must engage. Instead of Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's hands-off approach, Hagel argues, U.S. diplomats should be working with Arab governments, including governments that leaders in Washington may not like. Rejecting Bush's ranting about Syria and Iran, Hagel says the U.S. should be in direct negotiations with those countries. The senator characterized the administration's decision to pull the U.S. ambassador out of Damascus as "mindless." Paraphrasing the advice of a retired senior U.S. intelligence officer, Hagel said, "Even superpowers have to talk to bad guys. We ought to be able to communicate in a way that signals our strength and self-confidence."
To those who would suggest that the U.S. must choose between supporting Israel and engaging with its Arab neighbors, even those neighbors that Washington may consider to be "bad guys," Hagel offered one of the sanest statements heard on the floor of the Senate in the whole debate over the Middle East crisis: "Our relationship with Israel is special and historic," the Nebraskan said. "But it need not and cannot be at the expense of our Arab and Muslim relationships. That is an irresponsible and dangerous false choice."
Hagel is far from a perfect player. He doesn't have all the answers. He's not even proposing bold responses to the current crisis, and not all that he suggests is wise or responsible. The senator's simply a throwback to the old bipartisan consensus that said diplomacy and common sense ought to guide U.S. foreign policy, as opposed to messianic ranting and kneejerk reaction. Bush and his neoconservative colleagues are so out of touch with global realities and traditional American values with regard to diplomacy that they don't even understand where Hagel is coming from. Unfortunately, the Democrats are so lacking in spine and vision that, while they may recognize that Hagel is right about the failures and false choices that are the byproducts of this president's policies, they lack the guts to borrow enough pages from Republican senator's playbook to make themselves an effective opposition party.
From the Baby Steps Department where Democratic leaders plot policy comes a letter to President Bush signed by the opposition party's Congressional leadership, as well as a number of House and Senate Democrats who have been associated with national security and intelligence issues.
The letter from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and their partisan compatriots identifies the crisis of the moment: "Iraq has exploded in violence. Some 6,000 Iraqis were killed in May and June, and sectarian and insurgent violence continues to claim American and Iraqi lives at an alarming rate. In the face of this onslaught, one can only conclude that the Baghdad security plan you announced five weeks ago is in great jeopardy."
The letter identifies the broader crisis: "U.S. troops and taxpayers continue to pay a high price as your Administration searches for a policy. Over 2,500 Americans have made the ultimate sacrifice and over 18,000 others have been wounded. The Iraq war has also strained our military and constrained our ability to deal with other challenges. Readiness levels for the Army are at lows not seen since Vietnam, as virtually no active Army non-deployed combat brigade is prepared to perform its wartime missions."
The letter identifies the source of the crisis: "Far from implementing a comprehensive ‘Strategy for Victory' as you promised months ago, your Administration's strategy appears to be one of trying to avoid defeat."
The only thing that is lacking is a proper response to the crisis.
While the letter declares the belief of its signers "that a phased redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq should begin before the end of 2006," it does not propose anything akin to an exit strategy.
In effect, the letter is an embrace by key House Democrats -- Pelosi; Minority Whip Steny Hoyer; Ike Skelton, the ranking minority member of the House Armed Services Committee; Tom Lantos, the ranking minority member of the House International Relations Committee; Jane Harman, the ranking minority member of the House Intelligence Committee; and John Murtha, the ranking minority member of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee -- of the a proposal by Senators Carl Levin, D-Michigan, and Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island, that was voted down by the Republican-controlled Senate in June.
The vague Reed-Levin measure was a soft alternative to a proposal by Senators Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, and John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, to establish a timeline for bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq.
Most Senate Democrats backed Reed-Levin -- although, notably, Senator John Lieberman, who faces a stiff primary challenge next Tuesday from anti-war Democrat Ned Lamont, did not. Rhode Island Senator Lincoln Chafee was the sole Republican backer of the proposal.
Most Senate Democrats refused to back the Feingold-Kerry proposal, [The 13 Democrats who did take a clear anti-war stance were the sponsors and Senators Dan Araka and Dan Inouye of Hawaii, Barbara Boxer of California, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Jim Jeffords and Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Ron Wyden of Oregon.]
So where does this new letter leave the Democrats. Not far from where they were in June, before all hell broke loose in Baghdad. House Democratic leaders are a little more united than they were early in the summer -- with former cheerleaders for the war such as Harman and Lantos, both of whom faced California Democratic primary challenges to their Bush-friendly stances, moving in a more clearly skeptical direction regarding the administration's misguided foreign policies.
That's progress. But the Democratic Party has yet to embrace the position taken by the overwhelming majority of Americans. A July Gallup poll found that roughly 2 in 3 Americans want the U.S. to exit Iraq. [Significantly, 31 percent wanted the exodus to begin immediately.]
While the new letter to Bush was intended to suggest that Democrats are united, the fact is that the party leadership has not yet figured out how to talk about Iraq in a meaningful way. If they ever do, it will most likely be because of a push from the party's grassroots. That's why the Lieberman-Lamont contest in Connecticut is such a big deal. The rejection of Lieberman by Democratic primary voters would not merely signal grassroots anger with one war-backing senator, it would signal that Democrats want their party to start making a serious appeal to the great majority of voters who want out of Iraq.
How low will Republicans go to try and hang onto control of Ohio, the swing state where their machinations secured the presidency for George W. Bush in 2004?
Lower than reasonable Americans, no matter what their partisanship, no matter what their ideology, could imagine.
Gary Lankford, the Ohio Republican Party's recently hired "social conservative coordinator" this week dispatched a mass e-mail to so-called "pro-family friends" that featured his 10-point introduction to U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland, the Democratic nominee for governor.
Strickland, an ordained Methodist minister who has thrown Republicans for a loop by speaking about his faith during the campaign, is running far ahead of scandal-plagued Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, the Republican nominee who gained national fame in 2004 when he was broadly accused of manipulating election processes and vote counting to favor Bush in the presidential race.
What's the GOP strategy for getting Blackwell back into the running? Imply that Strickland is gay.
What are Republican staffers pointing to as evidence? Reports that the Democratic congressman and his wife of 20 years reside in different locations when he is in Washington.
In his email, Lankford, the GOP "social conservative coordinator," links to an Internet posting by a conservative operative that is headlined: "Article Adds Fire to Strickland Gay Rumors." The posting suggests that a mid-June Toledo Blade newspaper article implies "the Stricklands are both gay."
The article turns out to be a wide-ranging Father's Day feature on Strickland and Blackwell, in which mention was made of the fact that Strickland and his wife have no children. Blackwell was quoted as saying that it would be absurd to try and make an issue of whether the Democrat was a father or not. "Some of my most adored, most respected leaders are not parents," said the Republican. "Pope John Paul II was not a parent."
But Strickland, who is supported by gay and lesbian groups in the state and has criticized legislative assaults on gay rights, noted the frustration of Republicans with the Democrat's ability to match them on moral values issues and suggested that he might well be attacked. "The most effective way to campaign now is to identify your opponent's strengths and try to destroy those strengths," Strickland warned.
It looks like the Republican Party in Ohio has decided to jettison the "some of my most adored, most respected leaders are not parents" line in favor of an aggressive "Strickland's gay" assault on the Democrat's "moral values" appeal.
Indeed, Lankford's email, which highlighted his Republican Party role, urged recipients to: "Pass this information along."
When the "information" got passed along to the media, Ohio Republican Party political director Jason Mauk said the party repudiated the email. "We do not engage in rumor or innuendo," said Mauk, "especially rumors that are not relevant to this election."
Molly Ivins is trying to get Democrats excited about the prospect of running Bill Moyers for president.
"Dear desperate Democrats," the nation's most widely-read liberal newspaper columnist begins her latest missive. "Here's what we do: We run Bill Moyers for president. I am serious as a stroke about this. It's simple, cheap, and effective, and it will move the entire spectrum of political discussion in this country. Moyers is the only public figure who can take the entire discussion and shove it toward moral clarity just by being there."
Ivins makes a great case for why her fellow Texan ought to be on the ballot in 2008.
"Bill Moyers has been grappling with how to fit moral issues to political issues ever since he left Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and went to work for Lyndon Johnson in the teeth of the Vietnam War," she writes. "Moyers worked for years in television, seriously addressing the most difficult issues of our day. He has studied all different kinds of religions and different approaches to spirituality. He's no Holy Joe, but he is a serious man. He opens minds--he doesn't scare people. He includes people in, not out. And he sees through the dark search for a temporary political advantage to the clear ground of the Founders. He listens and he respects others."
After making her case, however, Ivins adds what appears to be the "reality" section:
"Do I think Bill Moyers can win the presidency? No, that seems like a very long shot to me. The nomination? No, that seems like a very long shot to me."
Ivins wants Moyers to make a sympbolic run, with the purpose of shaking up the Democratic party, and perhaps the nation.
"It won't take much money -- file for him in a couple of early primaries and just get him into the debates," the columnist explains. "Think about the potential Democratic candidates. Every single one of them needs spine, needs political courage. What Moyers can do is not only show them what it looks like and indeed what it is, but also how people respond to it. I'm damned if I want to go through another presidential primary with everyone trying to figure out who has the best chance to win instead of who's right. I want to vote for somebody who's good and brave and who should win."
But why limit this quest?
Why ask Democratic primary voters to send a message when they can send the best man into the November competition and, if the stars align correctly, perhaps even to the White House?
With all due regard to one of the finest journalists and finest Americans I know, I respectfully disagree with Molly Ivins -- not on the merits of a Moyers candidacy, but on the potential.
I'm not suggesting that Bill Moyers -- with whom I've had the pleasure of working in recent years on media reform issues -- is a sure bet to win the Democratic nomination or the presidency in 2008. I'm not even suggesting that he would be a good bet. But the politics of 2008 are already so muddled, so quirky and so potentially volatile that I believe -- as someone who has covered my share of presidential campaigns -- that Moyers could be a contender.
Moyers would enter the 2008 race with far more Washington political experience than Dwight Eisenhower had in 1952, far more national name recognition than Jimmy Carter had in 1976 and far more to offer the country than most of our recent chief executives.
Against the candidates who are lining up for the 2008 contest, Bill Moyers and his supporters would not need to make any excuses.
After all, the supposed Democratic frontrunner is a former First Lady who ran her first election campaign just six years ago. One of the leading Republican contenders is a guy whose main claim to fame is that he did a good job of running the Olympics in Salt Lake City, while another is still best known as the son of a famous football coach. And the strongest Republican prospect, John McCain, is actually more popular with Democrats than with his own partisans.
Consider the fact that a professional body builder is the governor of the largest state in the union, and that the list of serious contenders for seats in Congress and for governorships this year is packed with retired athletes, former television anchorpersons and bored millionaires, and it simply is not that big a stretch to suggest that someone with the government and private-sector experience, the national recognition and the broad respect that Bill Moyers has attained across five decades of public life could not make a serious run for the presidency.
So, Molly, I'll see your suggestion of Bill Moyers, and up the ante to suggest that Moyers really could be a contender.
As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice goes through the charade of meeting with international leaders to discuss the crisis in the Middle East – while showing her true sentiments with a firm rejection of the "false promise" of a ceasefire – observers of the carnage might reasonably ask: Is there anyone in Washington who wants the killing to stop?
In fact, there are a few dozen brave members of Congress who have leant their names to a call for halting the violence and allowing diplomacy to replace the bombs and bullets that are ripping apart whole regions of Lebanon, Israel and Palestine.
Twenty-four members of the House of Representatives have endorsed House Continuing Resolution 450: "Calling upon the President to appeal to all sides in the current crisis in the Middle East for an immediate cessation of violence and to commit United States diplomats to multi-party negotiations with no preconditions."
Submitted by Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich, the measure resolves that Congress:
(1) calls upon the President to--
(A) appeal to all sides in the current crisis in the Middle East for an immediate cessation of violence;
(B) commit United States diplomats to multi-party negotiations with no preconditions; and
(C) send a high-level diplomatic mission to the region to facilitate such multi-party negotiations…
The resolution also "urges such multi-party negotiations to begin as soon as possible, including delegations from the governments of Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Lebanon, Iran, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt; and supports an international peacekeeping mission to southern Lebanon to prevent cross-border skirmishes during such multi-party negotiations."
The members of the House who have signed onto Kucinich's resolution include:
Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii
Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin
Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri
John Conyers Jr. of Michigan
Danny Davis of Illinois
Bob Filner of California
Raul Grijalva of Arizona
Maurice Hinchey of New York
Mike Honda of California
Marcy Kaptur of Ohio
Carolyn Kilpatrick of Michigan
Barbara Lee of California
Betty McCollum of Minnesota
Jim McDermott of Washington
Gregory Meeks of New York
James Moran of Virginia
Charles Rangel of New York
Bobby Rush of Illinois
Louise Slaughter of New York
Hilda Solis of California
Pete Stark of California
Maxine Waters of California
Lynn Woolsey of California.
"Everyday this Administration sits on the sidelines the chance for a peaceful resolution becomes less likely," says Kucinich. "Every day this Administration sits on the sidelines more innocent civilians on all sides are dying. Every day this Administration sits on the sidelines America's already poor reputation in the world community gets worse."
Kucinich is right. But is it not also true that every day members of Congress sit on the sidelines – refusing to pressure the Bush administration to get serious about a ceasefire -- they too make the chance for a peaceful resolution less likely.
Two dozen members of Congress are doing something. What about the other 411 representatives? What about the 100 senators?
Peace Action is urging Americans to contact their Congressional representatives to: Demand that they do everything in their power to effect an immediate ceasefire in the current hostilities in the Middle East. For more information, visit their website at www.peaceaction.org
Progressive Democrats of America has launched a campaign to get members of the House to cosponsor the Kucinich resolution. For more information, visit their website at: www.pdamerica.org
Says PDA Executive Director Tim Carpenter: "It is unacceptable to stand and watch as the violence escalates."
It's more than just unfortunate – it is tragedy writ large -- that Condoleezza Rice does not share this sentiment.
A little more than a week of Israeli bombing and American neglect has created a humanitarian crisis in Lebanon. In a country that just months ago was being written up in travel magazines as one of the world's next great tourist destinations, and where a fragile democracy was beginning finally to define itself as something real, hundreds of civilians now lay dead; thousands have been injured; airports, ports, bridges and roads have been destroyed; and an estimated 500,000 men, women and children have been forced to flee their homes.
Officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross say they are "extremely concerned" that the situation in Lebanon is degenerating into chaos and dysfunction.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, is expressing horror at what is becoming of Lebanon.
"The distress felt at the destruction not only of life but also the infrastructure so painstakingly rebuilt after years of conflict will, I know, be acute and reinforce the sense of helplessness at being caught up in a wider regional struggle," writes the archbishop in a letter to Lebanese churches. "My condemnation of this resort to violence is unequivocal."
Unfortunately, neither the International Committee of the Red Cross, nor the Archbishop of Canterbury, nor the Israeli anti-war community, which rallied several thousand critics of Prime Minister Ehud Ohlmert's policies in Tel Aviv last Sunday, has sufficient international presence or authority to demand a halt to the destruction of Lebanon and of northern Israel – where the rockets of Hezbollah, which has so cynically and successfully provoked Israel, have killed civilians and done lesser but not insignificant damage to infrastructure.
President Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other U.S. leaders who have that presence and authority have chosen a hands-off approach that effectively encourages the expansion of violence in the region. Their neglect of the crisis is the foreign-policy equivalent of the White House's initial response to the Katrina catastrophe of last year in New Orleans. By failing to move quickly or responsibly, they make a bad situation worse.
Most Congressional Democrats have been the president's willing accomplices in this neglect of duty. But a handful of House members, led by Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich, have stepped up. A House resolution, sponsored by Kucinich and cosponsored by close to two dozen other representatives urges "the President to appeal to all sides in the current crisis in the Middle East for an immediate cessation of violence and to commit the United States diplomats to multi-party negotiations with no preconditions."
"The continuing violence in the Middle East is spiraling out of control and is on the verge of being full-out regional war in which there will be no winners," says Kucinich. "The US has a moral obligation to become immediately engaged and to try to seek a peaceful resolution to the situation. This Administration must seek an immediate cease-fire and return all sides to the negotiating table."
"The region urgently needs diplomatic assistance," the congressman adds. "The only way the US can reclaim its role, as a mediator is to speak and act like a mediator. Unfortunately, the Administration is making statements that only will contribute to escalation."
Kucinich is right. This is a testing time for members of Congress. Those who join Kucinich in calling for action to ease the conflict will be remembered as leaders – and as the true friends of Lebanon, Israel, Palestine and a battered peace process. Those who fail to do so will deserve to be remembered – and vilified -- for their failure to act when a humanitarian crisis unfolded before the eyes of the world.
For those who still claim that the Jack Abramoff scandal will not "play" politically, the Republican voters of Georgia beg to differ.
Christian right leader Ralph Reed's plan to begin his climb of the American political ladder as lieutenant governor of Georgia was thwarted in Tuesday's Republican primary.
Links to convicted influence-peddler Abramoff did Reed in.
Horrified by the hypocrisy of Reed, who parlayed his association with the Christian Coalition into a lucrative political consulting gig that saw him wrapping a "moral values" cloak around the lobbyist's sleaziest clients, Georgia Republicans gave the nomination for the state's No. 2 job to Casey Cagle, a state senator who shared Reed's conservatism but not his crookedness.
With most of the votes counted, Cagle was ahead by a solid 56-44 margin.
Reed had entered the race as the clear frontrunner. His years of close association with the Christian Coalition and other religious right groups had earned him a reputation as a virtuous Republican – a reputation he hoped to ride into the lieutenant governorship, the governorship and the Republican nomination for president in 2012 or 2016.
But Reed didn't count on the lobbying career of Jack Abramoff -- his buddy from College Republican days – blowing up into one of the seediest political scandals in decades. Nor did he think that his emails to Abramoff – including one in which "Mr. Moral Values" declared, ``I need to start humping in corporate accounts. I'm counting on you to help me with some contacts." – would be made public.
Abramoff did, indeed, help Reed get the big accounts. And Reed returned the favor, aiding Abramoff by exploiting his reputation as Christian conservative to help the lobbyist defend casino gambling interests and corporations exploiting sweatshop labor.
All the sordid details came out during a primary campaign capped by the announcement that a Texas Indian tribe had filed a civil fraud lawsuit against Reed and others, claiming that Reed conspired with Abramoff to shut down the tribe's casino while hiding the fact that they were in the pay of another tribe and competing casinos.
Cagle did not hesitate to exploit those details. One television ad from the Cagle campaign detailed Reed's involvement with Abramoff's efforts to prevent passage of federal legislation that would have extended labor-law protections to women and children working in garment factories in the Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory in the Pacific. "Reed worked with Abramoff to deny women and children legal protection from sweat shops in the Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory -- even though our government warned that women on the Islands were subjected to forced abortions and children were coerced into prostitution," the ad charged. As the words "Forced Abortions" and "Prostitution" flashed on the screen, and announcer declared: "Ralph Reed, his values are for sale."
Cagle ads, with their emphasis on the delicious irony of Reed's flexible morality, propelled the little-known state senator into a victory few would have imagined possible at the start of the campaign.
They also made Reed the first prominent political victim of the Abramoff scandal.
Reeds political ambitions are now on hold, perhaps permanently.
But the man who led the Christian Coalition and then went on to promote casino gambling and sweatshops is not without accomplishment. While he is certainly not without competition for the title, Ralph Reed is, arguably, the most prominent hypocrite in America.
Tuesday's primary election in Georgia will decide whether former Christian Coalition commander Ralph Reed has fooled enough home-state Republicans to win the party's nomination for lieutenant governor.
Reed, who made millions of dollars exploiting his reputation as "Mr. Moral Values" to help GOP influence peddler Jack Abramoff defend casino gambling interests and corporations exploiting sweatshop labor, is so compromised that some Democrats hope he wins the nomination, since they think they can beat him in November. The Democratic desire to run against Reed in November was heightened by the primary-eve announcement that a Texas Indian tribe had filed a civil fraud lawsuit against Reed and others, claiming that Reed conspired with Abramoff to shut down the tribe's casino while hiding the fact that they were in the pay of another tribe and competing casinos.
But, as Atlanta's smart alternative weekly newspaper, Creative Loafing, noted in its endorsement of Reed's primary rival, state Senator Casey Cagle: "Careful what you wish for."
It is not just Georgians who should be worried about this race.
With all the flack he's taking, the politically-savvy Reed would have backed out of this race if he was just running for the not-particularly-exciting office of lieutenant governor. He would not have risked the defeat that polls suggest could be handed him by Cagle.
But Reed is not just running for lieutenant governor.
Tuesday's primary is the first step on a campaign trail that the hyper-ambitious candidate hopes will take him to the governorship of Georgia in four years and then to a presidential run in 2012 or 2016.
Reed's betting that, if he can overcome all the talk about his Abramoff ties now, he'll be able to put the scandal behind him by the time he enters the national spotlight.
A crazy notion? Hardly. Republican strategists generally agree that, if Reed wins the primary and prevails in November, he will instantaneously emerge as the most prominent Christian conservative politician in the country. Based on his track record, Reed will parlay that prominence into a fund-raising campaign that will fill his campaign treasury with more than enough money to advance his state and national ambitions.
If Reed takes the governorship in four years, as a slew of Georgia lieutenant governors have in the past and as pundits suggests is certainly within the realm of possibility, he will be positioned to begin making the moves that are necessary to launch the presidential bid that has always been the end goal of the man who built the Christian Coalition from the remnants of Pat Robertson's failed 1988 campaign for the Republican nomination.
That's why Reed is running so hard this week. The critical first rung on the ladder of electoral politics he has been preparing to climb for more than two decades is within reach. The only question is whether Georgia Republicans will overlook his scandalous behavior and help him grasp it.
Congressional "Friends of Israel" are busy making noises about the "need" for the United States to provide that Middle Eastern land with full support as it assaults its neighbors.
But no genuine friend of Israel can be happy with what is being done in that country's name by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his misguided followers.
Israel's attack on Lebanon, which has already killed and wounded hundreds and destroyed much of that fragile democracy's infrastructure--including airports, seaports, bridges and roads--has done nothing to make Israel safer or more secure from threats posed by the militant Islamic organization Hezbollah. Indeed, the terrorist group's attacks on targets in northern Israel have become more brazen--and deadly--since Israel began striking Lebanon.
No serious participant in the contemporary discourse would deny that Israel has a right to protect itself. But no one in their right mind thinks Israel is going about the mission in a smart manner.
As Henry Siegman, the former head of the American Jewish Congress explains, "In Lebanon as in Gaza, it is not Israel's right to protect its civilian population from terrorist aggression that is at issue. It is the way Israel goes about exercising that right."
"Despite bitter lessons from the past, Israel's political and military leaders remain addicted to the notion that, whatever they have a right to do, they have a right to overdo, to the point where they lose what international support they had when they began their retaliatory measures," adds Seigman. "Israel's response to the terrorist assault in Gaza and the outrageous and unprovoked Hizbollah assault across its northern border in Lebanon, far from providing protection to its citizens, may well further undermine their security by destabilizing the wider region."
Seigman's right. Israel's assault on Lebanon won't bring stability to the Middle East. Instead, it makes a bad situation worse.
Unfortunately, President Bush has chosen to direct his anger over the crisis toward Syria, a largely disempowered player, and Iran, an increasingly powerful player but not one that listens to the U.S. By failing to express blunt concern about Israel's over-the-top response to a genuine problem, Bush has encouraged Olmert to continue on a course that has already proven devastating for Lebanon and that, ultimately, will threaten Israel's stability.
Bush should start listening to wise voices from Israel, voices that are saying Olmert is wrong.
Both Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Public Security Minister Avi Dichter opposed last week's bombings of Hezbollah headquarters and other facilities in Beirut, a move by Olmert and his allies that dramatically increased tensions and violence.
In the Israeli Knesset there is a good deal of opposition to the current strategy.
Writing in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, former Israeli Cabinet member Yossi Sarid, a well-regarded veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces, argues that Israel -- and the United States -- need to recognize that they are going about things the wrong way. Instead of destroying the economic and physical infrastructure of Lebanon and Palestine, Sarid argues that efforts must be made to improve economies and opportunities for those who now see violence as the only way to demand fairness and opportunity.
"Iraq is destroyed, Afghanistan is destroyed, the Gaza Strip is destroyed and soon Beirut will be destroyed for the umpteenth time, and hundreds of billions of dollars are being invested solely in the vain war against the side that always loses and therefore has nothing more to lose. And hundreds of billions more go down the tubes of corruption," wrote Sarid.
"Maybe the time has come to put the pistol into safety mode for a moment, back into the holster, and at high noon declare a worldwide Marshall Plan, so that the eternal losers will finally have something to lose," Sarid added. "Only then will it be possible to isolate the viruses of violence and terrorism, for which quiet is quagmire and which in our eyes are themselves quagmire. And once isolated, it will be possible to eradicate them one day."
"There is always a charge that socialism does not fit human nature. We've encountered that for a long time. Maybe that's true. But can't people be educated? Can't people learn to cooperate with each other? Surely that must be our goal, because the alternative is redolent with war and poverty and all the ills of the world."
-- Frank Zeidler
One of my favorite political artifacts is a "Frank Zeidler for President" campaign pin.
Zeidler, an old-school American socialist who served three terms as the mayor of Milwaukee from 1948 to 1960, and who died last Friday at age 93, never got very far as a presidential candidate. In fact, like so many of the great civic gestures he engaged in over nearly eight decades of activism, Zeidler's 1976 campaign for the nation's top job was more about "keeping the red flag flying" than actually winning.
In 1976, when the Socialist Party of Eugene Victor Debs and Norman Thomas was struggling to get its bearings after a series of internal struggles, splits and resignations, Zeidler presented himself as its standard-bearer. Campaigning on a platform that promised a shift of national priorities from bloated defense spending to fighting poverty, rebuilding cities and creating a national health care program, Zeidler won only a portion of the respect that was due this kind and decent man and the values to which he has devoted a lifetime.
The Socialist ticket won only 6,038 votes in 1976 4,298 of them from Wisconsin, where Zeidler retained a substantial personal following. Despite the paucity of support, Zeidler's candidacy renewed interest in a great old political party, which once was a key player in the politics of his native state of Wisconsin and, to a lesser extent, of the nation.
Had Zeidler been born in another land -- perhaps Germany, where the roots of his family tree were firmly planted -- his national campaign at the head of the ticket of the Socialist Party would have been a much bigger deal. Indeed, he might well have been elected.
After all, in most of the world, the social-democratic values that Zeidler has advanced throughout his long life hold great sway. Latin America has been experiencing a revival of socialist fervor in recent years. And virtually every European country has elected a socialist government in the past decade. Indeed, the current leaders of Spain, Italy and Britain head political parties that are associated with the Socialist International, of which Zeidler's Socialist Party is a U.S. affiliate.
Yet, outside of Milwaukee, New York City, Reading, Pennsylvania, and a few other outposts, America never took to socialism with the same energy that Europe and much of the rest of the world did. And by the time of his death, even Zeidler, the last Socialist Party activist to lead a major city in the U.S., was deemed worthy of only a wire-service "brief" in the obituary section of the New York Times.
So my "Zeidler for President" pin, presented to me by the candidate himself, is more a rare artifact than a record of consequential electioneering.
Like the man whose name it heralds, the pin is a reminder of a politics of principle that has mostly existed on the periphery of postwar America's stilted economic and political discourse.
Beyond the borders of the United States, Zeidler's contribution -- a humane, duty-driven, economically responsible version of socialism that is reflective of the man as much as the philosophy -- has always been better recognized by foreigners than by Americans.
Zeidler was the repository of a Milwaukee Socialist tradition with German radical roots and a record of accomplishment -- grand parks along that city's lakefront, nationally recognized public health programs, pioneering open housing initiatives, and an unrivaled reputation for clean government -- that to his death filled the circumspect former mayor with an uncharacteristic measure of pride.
With its emphasis on providing quality services, the politics that Zeidler practiced was sometimes referred to as "sewer socialism." But, to the mayor, it was much more than that. The Milwaukee Socialists, who governed the city for much of the 20th century, led a remarkably successful experiment in human nature rooted in their faith that cooperation could deliver more than competition.
"Socialism as we attempted to practice it here believes that people working together for a common good can produce a greater benefit both for society and for the individual than can a society in which everyone is shrewdly seeking their own self-interest," Zeidler told me in an interview several years ago. "And I think our record remains one of many more successes than failures."
On a Friday afternoon in the spring of 1999, the contribution that Zeidler made to Milwaukee and to the world was honored by people who well understood the significance of what this American socialist did and what he continued to do as someone whose activism slowed only slightly as he passed through his 80s and into his 90s.
At a gathering at the main branch of the Milwaukee Public Library, a favorite haunt of the man who as mayor battled to expand it, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation recognized Zeidler for his many years of public service and his unique contributions to the socialist cause.
Based in Bonn, Germany, the foundation was established in 1925 as a political legacy of Friedrich Ebert, Germany's first democratically elected president. A socialist, Ebert became president of a devastated Germany in the years after World War I, and he struggled to rebuild it as a free and responsible nation.
Banned by the Nazis in 1933, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation began its work anew in 1947 and today operates educational programs and other activities in more than 100 countries. It awards thousands of scholarships in Germany and around the world and maintains an internationally recognized library on the history of labor.
Dieter Dettke, executive director of the foundation's Washington office, came to Milwaukee to present Frank Zeidler with a bound volume of German constitutions -- a text that the former mayor, whose facility with languages was one of his many political assets, could read without the assistance of a translator.
American politics being what they are, Zeidler was never accorded the full measure of honor due him in his own land. But the rest of the world will continue to take inspiration from the recollection of the white-haired Milwaukee socialist whose faith in the possibility of a better world withstood the batterings of depression, war, McCarthyism, the Cold War, and the Nixon, Reagan and Bush eras,
"The concept that motivates us is a community good as opposed to the concept of an individual pursuing their own self-interest and that somehow the public good comes out of that," Zeidler told me not long before his death, still raising the red flag he carried across the 20th century and into the 21st. "Our concept is that a pursuit of the good of the whole produces the best condition for the good of the individual."