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What will the U.S. do about Iran? Sanction? Bomb? Invade?
How about... nothing.
That's right, nothing.
So suggests a Republican member of the U.S. House who has been sounding the alarm in Congress about the rush to act against what he dismisses as nothing more than "the next neocon target."
"There is no evidence of a threat to us by Iran, and no reason to plan and initiate a confrontation with her," argues Representative Ron Paul, the conservative from Texas who has in recent weeks voiced the loudest and most consistent objections to attempts by the Bush administration and its allies in Congress to suggest that U.S. military action may be needed to avert a supposed nuclear threat from the country.
An "Old Right" Republican with a long libertarian streak who has been repeatedly reelected from a Texas district where American flags wave in the breezes blowing off the Gulf of Mexico, and where the word "patriot" is taken seriously by the congressman and his constituents, Paul offers the answer to the despairing question of whether there is anyone in Congress who recognizes that the course proposed by the Bush administration and its neoconservative gurus is one of sheer madness.
Instead of planning an attack, the Texas Republican argues, "There are many reasons not to do so."
In a detailed address delivered on the floor of the House last week, Paul detailed them:
Iran does not have a nuclear weapon and there's no evidence that she is working on one -- only conjecture.
If Iran had a nuclear weapon, why would this be different from Pakistan, India, and North Korea having one? Why does Iran have less right to a defensive weapon than these other countries?
If Iran had a nuclear weapon, the odds of her initiating an attack against anybody-- which would guarantee her own annihilation-- are zero. And the same goes for the possibility she would place weapons in the hands of a non-state terrorist group.
Pakistan has spread nuclear technology throughout the world, and in particular to the North Koreans. They flaunt international restrictions on nuclear weapons. But we reward them just as we reward India.
We needlessly and foolishly threaten Iran even though they have no nuclear weapons. But listen to what a leading Israeli historian, Martin Van Creveld, had to say about this: "Obviously, we don't want Iran to have a nuclear weapon, and I don't know if they're developing them, but if they're not developing them, they're crazy."
There's been a lot of misinformation regarding Iran's nuclear program. This distortion of the truth has been used to pump up emotions in Congress to pass resolutions condemning her and promoting UN sanctions.
IAEA Director General Mohamed El Baradi has never reported any evidence of 'undeclared' sources or special nuclear material in Iran, or any diversion of nuclear material.
We demand that Iran prove it is not in violation of nuclear agreements, which is asking them impossibly to prove a negative. El Baradi states Iran is in compliance with the nuclear NPT required IAEA safeguard agreement.
We forget that the weapons we feared Saddam Hussein had were supplied to him by the U.S., and we refused to believe UN inspectors and the CIA that he no longer had them.
Likewise, Iran received her first nuclear reactor from us. Now we're hysterically wondering if someday she might decide to build a bomb in self interest.
Anti-Iran voices, beating the drums of confrontation, distort the agreement made in Paris and the desire of Iran to restart the enrichment process. Their suspension of the enrichment process was voluntary, and not a legal obligation. Iran has an absolute right under the NPT (nuclear proliferation treaty) to develop and use nuclear power for peaceful purposes, and this is now said to be an egregious violation of the NPT. It's the U.S. and her allies that are distorting and violating the NPT. Likewise our provision of nuclear materials to India is a clear violation of the NPT.
Noting that the same neoconservatives who steered the United States into the quagmire that is Iraq now want to start a new preemptive war with Iran -- not because a fight in needed but in order to achieve the regime change they desire -- Paul says what ought to be the official line of all rational observers of the situation: "Hysterical fear of Iran is way out of proportion to reality."
The Texas Republican, who opposed the rush to war with Iraq in 2002 and remains a steadfast critic of the endeavor, also proposes the rational counter to neoconservative calls for a new war.
With a policy of containment, we stood down and won the Cold War against the Soviets and their 30,000 nuclear weapons and missiles. If you're looking for a real kook with a bomb to worry about, North Korea would be high on the list. Yet we negotiate with Kim Jong Il. Pakistan has nukes and was a close ally of the Taliban up until 9/11. Pakistan was never inspected by the IAEA as to their military capability. Yet we not only talk to her, we provide economic assistance-- though someday Musharraf may well be overthrown and a pro-al Qaeda government put in place. We have been nearly obsessed with talking about regime change in Iran, while ignoring Pakistan and North Korea. It makes no sense and it's a very costly and dangerous policy.
The conclusion we should derive from this is simple: It's in our best interest to pursue a foreign policy of non-intervention. A strict interpretation of the Constitution mandates it. The moral imperative of not imposing our will on others, no matter how well intentioned, is a powerful argument for minding our own business. The principle of self-determination should be respected. Strict non-intervention removes the incentives for foreign powers and corporate interests to influence our policies overseas. We can't afford the cost that intervention requires, whether through higher taxes or inflation. If the moral arguments against intervention don't suffice for some, the practical arguments should.
Intervention just doesn't work. It backfires and ultimately hurts American citizens both at home and abroad. Spreading ourselves too thin around the world actually diminishes our national security through a weakened military. As the superpower of the world, a constant interventionist policy is perceived as arrogant, and greatly undermines our ability to use diplomacy in a positive manner.
Conservatives, libertarians, constitutionalists, and many of today's liberals have all at one time or another endorsed a less interventionist foreign policy. There's no reason a coalition of these groups might not once again present the case for a pro-American, non-militant, non-interventionist foreign policy dealing with all nations. A policy of trade and peace, and a willingness to use diplomacy, is far superior to the foreign policy that has evolved over the past 60 years.
It's time for a change.
Indeed, it is.
Where to begin? How about with the Democrats in Congress?
Isn't it time for the so-called "opposition party" to start talking as much sense about Iran as a member of the president's own party?
"We have won, and now we have to start working to implement our program and unify the country," Romano Prodi told Italians after the official count confirmed from that country's national elections confirmed exit polls showing Prodi's center-left coalition had deposed the government of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who had allied Italy with George W. Bush's foreign policies.
With his Olive Tree coalition of moderate Christian Democrats, liberals, Greens, Socialists, former Communists and Communists on track to gain solid control of the lower of the two houses of the Italian Parliament, the Chamber of Deputies, and a narrow majority in the upper house, the Senate, Prodi says he is positioned to begin to implement an ambitious agenda. If all goes as planned, one of the new prime minister's first moves will be to pull Italy's contingent of 2,600 troops out of Iraq.
That will deprive the Bush administration's "coalition of the willing" occupation force in Iraq of its fourth largest contingent.
The Italian withdrawal will be the latest blow to the administration spin that suggests the occupation is a multinational initiative. A score of countries have withdrawn their troops or are in the process of doing so. Many of the exits were hastened by elections that -- as in Italy this week -- saw voters chose political leaders and parties that promised to quit the coalition.
With Italy out, only three countries -- the U.S., Great Britain and South Korea -- will have more than 1,000 troops on the ground in Iraq.
The Italian exit is expected to come quickly.
Prodi's coalition promised during the campaign to implement an immediate withdrawal and, in nationally-televised debate last week he spelled out how it will work. "When we go to the government we'll decide for a speedy pullout of the troops, in secure conditions, talking with the Iraqi authorities," said Prodi, who explained that his priority would be to implement the exit strategy "as soon as possible."
Prodi could have a hard time implementing much of his program, as the close divide in the Senate and his own unwieldy coalition are likely to make governing difficult. But the process of getting Italian troops home will be eased by the fact that many member of Berlusconi's coalition also favor withdrawal. Indeed, in an attempt to diffuse the war issue during the recent campaign, Berlusconi, himself, had suggested that he would try to get Italian troops out of Iraq by the end of the year.
After the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, President Bush and his supporters spent a great deal of time talking about a "coalition of the willing" that at one time included four dozen countries. The president's use of the term "coalition" was always something of a misnomer, as it suggested a great deal of shared responsibility, when in fact the overwhelming majority of troops on the ground were from the U.S. Aside from the U.S. and Great Britain, no country ever had more than 5,000 troops in Iraq, and many of the coalition "partners" never had more than 100 troops in the country. Additionally, some of the largest troops contingents came from countries in eastern and central Europe that had been coerced to join the coalition by the U.S., which promised support for their efforts to integrate into international economic and political organizations in return for the commitment of troops to Iraq.
The president makes few references to his "coalition of the willing" these days because the coalition has been crumbling. Among the countries that have exited the coalition are Singapore (in January 2004), Nicaragua (February 2004); Spain (April 2004); Dominican Republic (May 2004); Honduras (May 2004); Norway (June 2004), Philippines (July 2004); Thailand (August 2004); New Zealand (September 2004); Tonga (December 2004) Hungary (December 2004); Portugal (February 2005); Moldova (February 2005); Netherlands (June 2005), Ukraine (December 2005) and Bulgaria (January 2006).Compared with the U.S. casualty rate, the Italians have suffered relatively few losses in Iraq.
But those losses have been deeply felt, as they have been in other coalition countries. Twenty-seven Italian soldiers died in Iraq, according to a CNN count. That's out of a coalition death toll, as of April 10 of 2,560 -- 2,353 of them Americans, one Australian, 103 Britons, 13 Bulgarians, three Danes, two Dutch, two Estonians, one Fijian, one Hungarian, one Kazakh, one Latvian, 17 Poles, two Salvadoran, three Slovaks, 11 Spaniards, two Thai and 18 Ukrainians.
Prodi has always said that the Italian death toll was 27 too many.
Prodi, a former prime minister, reentered Italian politics two years ago -- after serving as president of the European Commission -- when he backed a campaign against Italian participation in the coalition that used the slogan: "Iraq: A Wrongful War." Now, as the prime minister once more, Prodi will be able to implement the promise of that campaign by withdrawing Italian troops from the coalition and by further confirming that the ongoing occupation of Iraq is George W. Bush's project -- as opposed to that of a genuine "coalition of the willing."
In light of the news that President Bush authorized a top Administration aide to use previously classified information as part of an orchestrated political attack on a prominent critic of the Administration, a radio host asked me over the weekend: "What will it take to get Republicans to break with Bush? How bad will things have to get before they realize that he's a disaster for the country?"
I answered that, in small but significant ways, Republicans have been breaking with Bush for some time now. When the President travels to states around the country to pump up support for his war, he often does so without the accompaniment of GOP members of Congress who find that they are otherwise engaged on the days that the Commander in Chief drops by their hometowns. While most leading Republicans refuse to admit as much publicly, they are putting more and more distance between themselves and a President whose approval rating has dropped to Nixon-in-Watergate depths.
When Congress voted recently on whether to extend the Patriot Act, some of the loudest "no" votes came from conservative Republicans such as Don Young of Alaska and Butch Otter of Idaho, who argued with Democratic US Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin that the legislation was an assault on basic liberties and Constitutional standards. As but a handful of Senate Democrats and key House Democrats such as Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair Rahm Emanuel were lining up with the Bush Administration to curtail civil liberties, Texas Republican Ron Paul, perhaps the most consistent critic of the Patriot Act in the House, complained that "one prominent Democrat opined on national television that 'most of the 170-page Patriot Act is fine,' but that it needs some fine tuning. He then stated that he opposed the ten-year reauthorization bill on the grounds that Americans should not have their constitutional rights put on hold for a decade. His party's proposal, however, was to reauthorize the Patriot Act for only four years, as though a shorter moratorium on constitutional rights would be acceptable! So much for the opposition party and its claim to stand for civil liberties."
Perhaps even more significant than GOP opposition to the Patriot Act is the opposition from some of the most conservative Republicans in the House--including Paul, Walter Jones and Howard Coble of North Carolina, and John Duncan of Tennessee--to the war in Iraq. These Republicans, among others, are now among the most ardent and articulate Congressional critics of the Administration's policies in the Middle East.
Last week, Paul, Jones and a moderate Republican, Wayne Gilchrest of Maryland, joined with three Democrats--Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii, Ike Skelton of Missouri and Marty Meehan of Massachusetts-–in a push to get the House to hold a daylong debate on the war, declaring that: "Americans deserve an open and honest debate about the future of US policy in Iraq by their Representatives in Congress." While the debate demand of these Republicans stalwarts was stymied by their party leadership in the House, it is notable that House Republican leaders chose not to block a March 16 amendment by US Representative Barbara Lee, a Democrat from California, which put the House on record as opposing the construction of permanent US bases in Iraq. The decision not to fight Lee's amendment, which passed by an overwhelming voice vote, was a tacit acknowledgment by GOP leaders of the reality, pointed up in a recent University of Maryland Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) poll, that 60 percent of Republican voters oppose a permanent US presence in that country.
Indeed, while a predictable 80 percent of Democrats support moves to begin withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, according to the PIPA poll, a rather more remarkable 52 percent of Republicans now want Washington to begin bringing the troops home.
Although their President and Vice President and a few key Congressional leaders may still be clinging to neoconservative fantasies, Republicans who actually care about their country-–as well as Republicans who care about the political viability of their party at a time when a new Associated Press/Ipsos poll finds that Americans would prefer a Democrat-led House by the widest margin in recent history, 49 percent to 33 percent-–are indeed beginning to make meaningful breaks with Bush.
So the question of the moment is not "What will it take to get Republicans to break with Bush?" The question is: "What will it take to get Congressional Democrats to break with Bush?"
Despite mounting evidence not just of the President's unpopularity but of his reckless disregard for the law-–which was again confirmed by last week's news of former Cheney chief of staff I. "Scooter" Libby's testimony that Bush authorized distribution of previously classified data as part of a concerted effort to undermine the credibility of former Ambassador Joe Wilson, who had revealed that the "case" for going to war in Iraq was based on false premises-–most Congressional Democrats continue to resist calls to hold the President accountable.
An American Research Group poll conducted in March found that 70 percent of Democrats, 42 percent of independents and 29 percent of Republicans surveyed favor censuring Bush for authorizing wiretaps of Americans within the United States without obtaining court orders. Yet Feingold's motion to censure Bush has drawn just two Democratic co-sponsors in the Senate, Barbara Boxer of California and Tom Harkin of Iowa.
The same American Research Group poll found that 61 percent of Democrats, 47 percent of independents and 18 percent of Republicans are supportive of moves to impeach Bush. Yet Representative John Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, has attracted just 33 co-sponsors for his resolution calling for the creation of "a select committee to investigate the administration's intent to go to war before Congressional authorization, manipulation of pre-war intelligence, encouraging and countenancing torture, retaliating against critics, and to make recommendations regarding grounds for possible impeachment." Most Democratic members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, along with Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders, have signed on. But House minority leader Nancy Pelosi and others in leadership positions remain aggressively critical of the initiative.
Where, at the very least, is the united Democratic support for Representative Maurice Hinchey's call for the expansion of Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation into White House leaks-–which produced the indictment of Libby and last week's revelation about the role of the President and Vice President-–to examine the motivations of all of those involved in the White House's political assault on Joe Wilson? Hinchey, a New York Democrat, has been on the case since last summer, when he got thirty-nine other House members to sign a letter he wrote to Fitzgerald calling for the expanded investigation. As Hinchey says, "Justice will not be served until all of these matters are fully addressed in the courts and in the Congress."
Hinchey's right. But the fundamental truth of American politics remains that justice will only be served when the opposition party moves, as a united force encouraged and supported by its leadership in the House and Senate, to demand accountability from this Administration. For most Democrats, that will demand something they have not yet been willing to make: a break from Bush. And Democrats had better be quick about making that break, unless they want their Republicans colleagues to beat them to the punch.
President Bush told Vice President Cheney to tell the vice president's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, to disclose highly classified information regarding Iraq intelligence in order to try and discredit legitimate criticism of the administration.
What's this? The latest line from proponents of impeachment?
No, according to court records that became available Thursday, it is what Libby testified was the scenario that played out before he began contacting reporters in an effort to undermine the reputation of former Ambassador Joe Wilson.
According to a National Journal report on the documents: "I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby testified to a federal grand jury that he had received 'approval from the President through the Vice President' to divulge portions of a National Intelligence Estimate regarding Saddam Hussein's purported efforts to develop nuclear weapons, according to the court papers. Libby was said to have testified that such presidential authorization to disclose classified information was 'unique in his recollection,' the court papers further said."
The Journal report, which is based on both the court papers and interviews with senior government officials familiar with the investigation of Libby's actions by Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the specialprosecutor in the CIA leak case, suggests that a fast-and-loose approach to the release of classified information was authorized by Bush and Cheney before the war as part of an effort to "make the case" for the invasion of Iraq.
After the invasion, when Wilson raised questions about the validity of claims made by the president, the Journal report suggests that the gloves came off, and the weapon of choice was classified information.
"Bush and Cheney authorized the release of the information regarding the NIE (National Intelligence Estimate) in the summer of 2003, according to court documents, as part of a damage-control effort undertaken only days after former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV alleged in an op-ed in The New York Times that claims by Bush thatSaddam Hussein had attempted to procure uranium from the African nation of Niger were most likely a hoax."
The White House initial response Thursday was to refuse to comment on Libby's testimony, which has called into serious question the president's October, 2003, assertion that: "I don't know of anyone in my administration who has leaked. If somebody did leak classified information, I'd like to know it, and we'll take the appropriate action."
But if the president is not now in a position to take appropriate action, members of Congress are.
U.S. Representative Maurice Hinchey, D-New York, who has been the most determined Congressional watchdog with regard to the administration's misuse of intelligence information, says that, "If what Scooter Libby said to the grand jury is true, then this latest development clearly reveals yet again that the CIA leak case goes much deeper than the disclosure of a CIA agent's identity to the press. The heart and motive of this case is about the deliberate attempt at the highest levels of this administration to discredit those who were publicly revealing that the White House lied about its uranium claims leading up to the war. The Bush Administration knew that Iraq had not sought uranium from Africa for a nuclear weapon, yet they went around telling the Congress, the country, and the world just the opposite. When Ambassador Joseph Wilson, Valerie Wilson's husband, publicly spoke out with proof that the administration was not telling the truth on uranium, the administration engaged in an orchestrated plot, which now reportedly includes President Bush, to discredit Ambassador Wilson and dismiss any notion that they had lied about pre-war intelligence."
Hinchey, one of the rare members of the House who has made it his business to monitor and police abuses of executive powers, wrote the 1999 amendment to intelligence reauthorization legislation that forced the declassification of documents that revealed the role played by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and other members of the Nixon administration in the illegal 1973 overthrow of Chilean President Salvador Allende.
The congressman is one of 33 cosponsors of Representative John Conyers' resolution calling for the creation of a select committee to investigate, among other issues, the Bush administration's manipulation of pre-war and retaliating against critics. That committee would be charged with making recommendations regarding grounds for possible impeachment, which would, of course, require a finding that high crimes and misdemeanors had been committed by the president and vice president.
Hinchey's says that Libby's testimony adds to the mounting body of evidence that rules, regulations and laws have been bent far beyond the breaking point.
"It is an absolute disgrace to the institution of the presidency that President Bush authorized members of his administration to disclose select parts of highly classified information from a National Intelligence Estimate in order to make political advances and gain public support," says Hinchey. "How dare President Bush and Vice President Cheney say they want to prosecute those who leaked the NSA domestic surveillance program when they themselves authorized the disclosure of information from some of the most highly sensitive documents in the government. The White House opposes leaks when the disclosed information hurts them politically, but supports leaks when information advances their political cause."
Hinchey has for months been urging Fitzgerald to officially expand his investigation to include an examination of the motives behind the leaks by Libby, focusing in particular on the question of whether the administration's intent was to discredit Ambassador Wilson's revelation that Iraq had never sought uranium from Niger or other African countries. If that is proven to be the case, Hinchey has argued, "President Bush and other top members of his administration knowingly lied about uranium to the Congress, which is a crime."
"It is my belief, as well as the belief of my 39 House colleagues who signed my original letter to Special Counsel Fitzgerald, that he has the authority and obligation to expand his investigation to investigate the lies about uranium, which are the true heart of this case," Hinchey explained Thursday, in a statement outlining his intention to step up efforts to press for the expansion of the investigation.
The congressman is laying down the line that members of Congress, be they members of the Democratic opposition or honest Republicans who are beginning to recognize the extent to which they have been deceived by Bush, Cheney and their aides, will need to embrace at a moment when the administration and its media echo chamber will be doing everything in their power to constrain Fitzgerald's investigation.
Says Hinchey: "The heart of the CIA leak case cannot and must not be ignored."
In November 2004, the village of Luxemburg, Wisconsin, voted to re-elect George W. Bush by a hefty margin of 701 to 431. Always a GOP stronghold, the community voted for other Republicans as well, even the challenger to popular Democratic Senator Russ Feingold, who was winning by a landslide statewide.
There's not much question that the majority of the 2,000 residents of this rural northeastern Wisconsin village of well-maintained homes, neat storefronts and large churches think of themselves as old-fashioned Midwestern conservatives.
So, by the calculus of the Bush White House and its echo chamber in the national media, Luxemburg ought to be just about the last place in the United States to express doubts about the President's handling of the war in Iraq. And surely, no national pundit would have predicted that the village would vote in favor of a referendum declaring: "Be it hereby resolved, that the Village of Luxemburg urges the United States to begin an immediate withdrawal of its troops from Iraq, beginning with the National Guard and Reserves."
Yet on Tuesday, the citizens of Luxemburg did exactly that, endorsing the immediate withdrawal referendum with a clear majority of their votes.
Luxemburg was not the only Wisconsin community that voted for Bush in 2000 and 2004 but voted against his war Tuesday. Up the road from Luxemburg, the villages of Casco and Ephraim voted for Bush in 2004 and immediate withdrawal in 2006. Across the state in northwest Wisconsin, the towns of Ojibwa, Draper and Edgewater, all of which backed Bush two years ago, voted against the war on Tuesday.
Their votes came as part of a statewide rejection of the war that saw twenty-four of thirty-two communities where Bring the Troops Home Now referendums were on local ballots vote for withdrawal. Added together, the referendums produced a resounding 40,043 to 25,641 vote against the continued US occupation of Iraq--producing an antiwar margin of 61 percent to 39 percent.
Apologists for the war--from the Republican National Committee to conservative talk-radio hosts and Fox TV commentators--are spinning like crazy to suggest that the referendums offer a reflection only of liberal, anti-Bush sentiment in college towns such as Madison, the state capital of Wisconsin.
The problem that the spin doctors are running into is that, while the Bring the Troops Home referendum won Madison by a thumping 68-to-32 margin, similar referendums won by a 70-to-30 margin in the well-to-do Milwaukee suburb of Shorewood and by a dramatic 82-to-18 margin in the community of Couderay in rural Sawyer County.
"These thirty-two communities were a representative sample of the state, with twenty-two of the thirty-two located in counties that George Bush won in the 2004 election," explained Steve Burns, Program Coordinator of the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice. "This is yet more evidence of a new antiwar majority in Wisconsin."
It was particularly notable that a Bring the Troops Home referendum won in a LaCrosse, the western Wisconsin city where Democratic and Republican presidential candidates--including Bush--have regularly campaigned over the years because the region around it is seen as a bellwether for national politics. Indeed, despite an aggressive campaign against the withdrawal referendum by LaCrosse County Republicans, the Bring the Troops Home measure won by a solid 55-to-45 margin.
It is true that referendums were defeated in eight cities, villages and towns. But only in two of those communities did the vote for immediate withdrawal fall below 45 percent.
The Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice, the Green Party and other groups that plotted the campaign for these referendums -- and that received important assistance from new Liberty Tree Foundation and the national Voters for Peace initiative -- took a number of risks. They wrote resolutions with uncompromising "immediate withdrawal" language, and they put them on the ballot not just in traditionally liberal communities but in traditionally conservative cities, villages and towns. They bet that they could win the votes not just of liberals but of honest conservatives, and in so doing they secured a message that--for all the attempts to spin it away--cannot be denied.
By a wide margin, an honest cross-section of communities in a Midwestern "battleground" state--where Bush and Kerry wrestled to a virtual tie in 2004, and where the House delegation is split between four Democrats and four Republicans--have told Washington that it is time to bring the troops home.
When he was making his name in American politics, as then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich's political enforcer, Tom DeLay was confronted by fellow Republicans who urged him to embrace a bipartisan budget compromise. Borrowing an expletive from Dick Cheney, DeLay growled, "F--k that, it's time for all-out war."
DeLay's war on American democracy--which included not just radical gerrymandering of Congressional districts and the formalization of pay-to-play policy-making in Washington but the crude manipulation of the recount that made George Bush President--is now coming to a close. Under indictment, forced from the House leadership by scandal and faced with the prospect of defeat in November, DeLay has signaled that he will quit the House of Representatives that he has effectively run for the better part of a decade.
Histories of this dark passage in the American story will record that no political figure fought harder or longer to dismantle traditions of compromise and cooperation in Congress than DeLay, a man who targeted those with whom he disagreed as zealously as he had once gone after the vermin he chased in his previous career as an exterminator. As far as DeLay was concerned, the niceties of democracy were a cruel impediment to his new career path. So he went to war with the process itself on behalf of his own political advancement--and that of the paymasters in the industries he served more diligently than his Texas constituents, his conservative ideology or his Republican Party.
While it is surely the case that the Texas Congressman's career was in steep decline following his indictment on campaign-corruption charges and his forced resignation from the majority leader position, for so long as Tom DeLay remained within grasping reach of the levers of power in Washington, the prospect of a further dismantling of democracy remained all too real.
It is this truth that makes DeLay's decision to cheat the voters of his Texas district out of an opportunity to remove him from Congress cause for at least a measure of hope with regard to the harrowing circumstance of the American experiment. Yes, of course, it would have been satisfying to watch DeLay defeated on election day. But even the faint risk that this worst of all Washington players might have clawed his way back to another term in the House--and, with that, another chance, however remote, to again take charge of the chamber--was serious enough that the news of his decision to quit rather than fight marks at least a small turning point in the struggle to reconstruct the democracy that the man they called "The Hammer" so consistently and so brutally battered.
In Washington, where the press corps rarely chooses to examine the real political stories of the day, DeLay will be most commonly remembered for his scheming to warp the redistricting processes of his home state in order to gerrymander a half dozen Democrats out of seats they had won fair and square in districts drawn by a judicial panel based on the results of the 2000 Census. His scandalous machinations did more than shift the character of the state's House delegation; they created the opening for a courageous prosecutor, Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, to win the indictments that hastened the end of DeLay's reign of error.
There will, as well, be appropriate if incomplete discussion of DeLay's dirty dealings inside the Beltway--his "K Street Project" to formalize links between campaign giving, lobbying and legislating, his thought-policing of the Republican Party, his sex-crazed impeachment of a President he hated for being popular, his creation of a Potemkin Speaker of the House in the form of the bumbling Denny Hastert--and a few commentators will venture the "bold" suggestion that the Texan might have done a bit of harm to the integrity of the governing process.
But DeLay's crudest dismantling of democracy will be little mentioned today, just as it was barely noted at the time that he brought the hammer down.
On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving 2000, when the eyes of the nation were fixed on the Stephen P. Clark Government Center in downtown Miami, where a Dade County canvassing board was reviewing 10,750 uncounted ballots in Florida's disputed presidential contest between Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush, a riot orchestrated by DeLay's top aides and allies and carried out by Republican operatives flown in from Washington stopped the count. In so doing, DeLay's Izod-clad minions assured that the Bush campaign's Florida co-chair, Katherine Harris, would, in her capacity as secretary of state, be able to certify a 537-vote "win" for the Republican when the recount deadline arrived. It was that certification that allowed Florida Governor Jeb Bush to sign a Certificate of Ascertainment designating twenty-five Florida electors pledged to his brother. The paperwork was immediately transferred to the National Archives, where it would eventually be cited by the US Supreme Court in its decision to award the Florida electoral votes, and with them the presidency, to Bush.
DeLay's role in the recount, though little reported and even now little understood outside the inner circles of the Republican and Democratic parties, was definitional.
Furious that the Florida Supreme Court had on November 21, 2000, ordered a real recount of disputed ballots in the race that would decide the presidency, the House Republican leader had issued a statement that declared: "I hope this misguided ruling will be vigorously challenged."
DeLay was not making an idle threat. He was delivering marching orders to the troops in his war on democracy.
On the following day, a crowd of Republican aides and lobbyists flown in from Washington swarmed into the Goverment Center, chased Democratic observers out of the building and began banging on the doors of the area in which the recount of the key county's ballots had begun. Leading the "rioters" in chants of "Stop the Count" was Tom Pyle, a policy analyst in DeLay's office. This "vigorous challenge" to the count proved successful. The three-judge panel of canvassers--who after going through only a handful of the disputed ballots had already identified more than 150 additional votes for Gore--was shaken. After a team of sheriff's deputies restored order, the judges asked for a police escort to return them to the recounting room. There, they voted unanimously to stop the count. The additional votes for Gore that had already been discovered were discarded. Vote totals from Florida's most populous county reverted to pre-recount figures.
David Leahy, the supervisor of elections for the country, admitted that the riot "weighed heavy on our minds" as the decision to stop the recount was made. US Representative Carrie Meeks, a Democrat in Miami, was blunter. "The canvassing board bowed under pressure," she said.
That pressure was applied by DeLay, who would say after the US Supreme Court locked in the results for Bush: "This is something I've been working on for twenty-two years. I mean, we got it."
For once, DeLay was being modest. While Jeb Bush and Katherine Harris and Antonin Scalia all played their parts, it was DeLay who brought down the hammer that stopped the recount process at its most critical point.
DeLay will soon be gone, and there is a good chance that he will be convicted of at least a few of his crimes against democracy. But his greatest crimes will go unpunished, at least for so long as the Congress Tom DeLay created and the presidency that he made possible continue to punish America and the world.
John Nichols's book on the Florida recount fight of 2000, Jews for Buchanan (The New Press), features a chapter on DeLay's manipulation of the process. Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. says, "If you care about American democracy, you must read this book."
"[The] president needs to be reminded that separation of powers does not mean an isolation of powers," former White House counsel John Dean told the Senate Judiciary Committee Friday. "He needs to be told he cannot simply ignore a law with no consequences."
Arguing in favor of U.S. Senator Russ Feingold's motion to censure President Bush for illegally authorizing the warrantless wiretapping of the phone conversations of Americans, the man who broke with former President Richard Nixon to challenge the abuses of the Watergate era told the committee that Bush's wrongs were in many senses worse than those of Nixon.
"I recall a morning – and it was just about this time in the morning and it was exactly this time of the year – March 21, 1973 – that I tried to warn a president of the consequences of staying his course. I failed to convince President Nixon that morning, and the rest, as they say, is history," Dean, who famously told Nixon that there was "a cancer growing" on his presidency, explained in testimony submitted to the committee. "I certainly do not claim to be prescient. Then or now. But actions have consequences, and to ignore them is merely denial. Today, it is very obvious that history is repeating itself. It is for that reason I have crossed the country to visit with you, and that I hope that the collective wisdom of this committee will prevail, and you will not place the president above the law by inaction. As I was gathering my thoughts yesterday to respond to the hasty invitation, it occurred to me that had the Senate or House, or both, censured or somehow warned Richard Nixon, the tragedy of Watergate might have been prevented. Hopefully the Senate will not sit by while even more serious abuses unfold before it."
Republicans on the committee attempted to dismiss Feingold's motion as a partisan gesture, rather than a necessary reassertion of the system of checks and balances that has so decayed since Congress ceded its oversight role in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Utah Senator Orrin Hatch was particularly aggressive in echoing Republican National Committee talking points, denouncing Feingold's motion as nothing more than an attempt to "score political points."
But Dean rejected that claim, as did Bruce Fein, a lawyer who served in Ronald Reagan's Justice Department and who joined Dean in testifying in favor of the censure motion.
"To me, this is not really and should not be a partisan question,'' said Dean, who served as chief counsel for the Republican minority on the House Judiciary Committee before joining the Nixon White House. "I think it's a question of institutional pride of this body, of the Congress of the United States.''
Feingold went even further, suggesting that Congress has a duty to hold president's to account for authorizing a secretive domestic spying program that operates without legal authorization, in clear violation the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
"If we in the Congress don't stand up for ourselves and the American people, we become complicit in the lawbreaking,'' Feingold said. ``The resolution of censure is the appropriate response.''
Predictably, Hatch and several of the more aggressive defenders of the Bush administration on the committee fell back on the "talking points" argument that it would be inappropriate to censure Bush while the country is at war in Iraq. "Wartime is not a time to weaken the commander-in-chief,'' growled the Utah Republican.
But Feingold rejected the suggestion that Congress should surrender its oversight responsibilities in wartime.
"Under this theory, we no longer have a constitutional system consisting of three co-equal branches of government, we have a monarchy," explained the senator, who added that, "We can fight terrorism without breaking the law. The rule of law is central to who we are as a people, and the President must return to the law. He must acknowledge and be held accountable for his illegal actions and for misleading the American people, both before and after the program was revealed."
Congressional Democrats have pretty much abandoned their Constitutionally-mandated responsibility to check and balance the excesses to the executive branch – so much so that the one Democrat who seeks to hold President Bush to account for ordering the warrantless wiretapping of American's telephone conversations accuses for party's leaders of "cowering."
So where is Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold finding support?
Among Republicans. Or, more precisely, among prominent alumni of past Republican administrations.
When the Senate Judiciary Committee convenes as extraordinary session on Friday to consider the Feingold's motion to censure the president for ordering federal agencies to engage in eavesdropping in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act's requirement that judicial approval be obtained for wiretaps of Americans in the United States, the dissenting senator will call two witnesses.
Making arguments about the extreme seriousness of the warrantless wiretapping issue -- and the need for a Congressional response -- will be noted constitutional lawyer Bruce Fein, who served in President Ronald Reagan's Department of Justice as Deputy Attorney General, and author and legal commentator John Dean, who served at Richard Nixon's White House counsel before breaking with the president to reveal the high crimes and misdemeanors of the Watergate era.
Fein has testified before Congress a number of times since leaving the Reagan White House, most recently at a February 28, 2006, Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on President Bush's eavesdropping initiatives.
Dean's testimony will be somewhat more historic in nature. According to the Senate Library, the man who before joining the Nixon administration served as Chief Minority Counsel to the House Judiciary Committee, has not testified before Congress since 1974, the year that his former boss resigned in order to avoid impeachment.
For Feingold's Senate colleagues – defensive Republicans and cautious Democrats alike --- the testimony of Fein and Dean may come as a shock to the system. These veterans of Republican administrations past offer little quarter when it comes to the presidential wrongdoing of the moment.
Fein has argued, with regard to this president's penchant for illegal spying schemes, that: "On its face, if President Bush is totally unapologetic and says I continue to maintain that as a war-time President I can do anything I want – I don't need to consult any other branches' – that is an impeachable offense. It's more dangerous than Clinton's lying under oath because it jeopardizes our democratic dispensation and civil liberties for the ages. It would set a precedent that … would lie around like a loaded gun, able to be used indefinitely for any future occupant."
Dean has echoed those concerns, explaining that: "There can be no serious question that warrantless wiretapping, in violation of the law, is impeachable. After all, Nixon was charged in Article II of his bill of impeachment with illegal wiretapping for what he, too, claimed were national security reasons."
Dean does make a distinction between the misdeeds of the Nixon and Bush administration, however. He has argued for some time that the current administration's reckless disregard for the Constitution and the rule of law is "worse than Watergate."
After Karen Hughes stepped down as a counselor to the president in 2002, White House chief of staff Andy Card, in a rare moment of candor, told Esquire: "She's leaving when the president has one of the highest approval ratings on record. From here, it can only go down. And when it does, you know who they're going to blame."
Then, Card tapped his chest and added, "They're gonna blame Andy Card!"
As it happens, Card was wrong.
No one blamed him. Few even remembered that he was, technically, in charge of managing the Bush White House.
Card will forever be remembered for one thing: Wandering into camera range and then whispering into the ear of President Bush that terrorists had attacked the United States -- and for not, apparently, imparting the information with sufficient force to get the most powerful man in the world to respond with anything more than a quizzical look for the seven agonizing minutes portrayed in Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9-11.
As Bill Maher has suggested: "Watergate was outrageous but it still did not carry the possibility of utter devastation, like a President's freezing at the very moment we needed his immediate focus on an attack on the United States."
Well, Card was the senior aide, who had been placed at the president's side by none other than Father-in-Chief George Herbert Walker Bush, in order to make sure that George II did not freeze at moments such as this. And he failed, miserably. Not only did Bush fail to respond to the whispered news that "America's under attack" for the seven minutes seen on screen, he then spent another twenty minutes posing for "photo-op" pictures afterward.
Bush has taken his share of criticism for fumbling the moment, and then for flying off around the country on a wild goose chase that took him to air bases further and further from where Dick Cheney was actually running things. But Card, as the man the Bush family had positioned to assure that the president didn't fall apart in just these circumstances, was the real fumbler. He did not get the president refocused, he did not rise to the challenge.
As a result, the president was not the president that day. Nora Ephron summed things up well when she wrote last year that, "[If] you remember September 11, 2001 -- and I'm sure you do -- the President had no idea what to do, but the Vice President did. The Vice President took over. He didn't even consult with the President. He put the President on Air Force One and the President spent the day flying from one airport to another, which was something that even the President eventually understood made him look as if he wasn't in charge."
"Cheney was the dominant figure on September 11," observed James Mann, the brilliant analyst of U.S. foreign policy and policy makers who serves as senior writer-in-residence at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Even wire service reports noted that dominance, with United Press International suggesting that it "reintroduced nagging questions about who was realy in charge in the Bush White House." Those questions grew louder after Cheney delivered a minute-by-minute account of the actions he took to secure the nation during an appearance the Sunday after the attacks on NBC's Meet the Press.
Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley summed up the point of that appearance in an interview with UPI: "It was Cheney telling the world, 'Don't worry about Shrub, I know what's going on.' "
The question that history will ask with regard to Card -- the only question -- is this: As the senior aide at Bush's side on the most significant day in recent American history, did he fail to get the president to focus on the crisis at hand? Or did he do what he was supposed to do: Get a weak and unprepared president out of the way so that the real boss could take charge?
That's a question for historians to ponder.
In the end, however, no one will spend too much time on Andy Card's role. He won't be blamed, as he once feared, for the decline in Bush's fortunes. His will be, by and large, the forgotten service of a man who managed a White House where powerful players -- Cheney, Donald Rumseld, Karl Rove -- constructed a presidency of their own design, while the elected commander-in-chief vacationed and exercised and generally ambled through history.
The truth is that Andy Card may well have failed not just his president but his country by allowing power and responsibility to drift so far from the hands of the elected president. But such failures are the stuff of footnotes and sidebars, not of the main storyline. Indeed, if Card is remembered at all by the great mass of Americans, it will be for that bit role in a Michael Moore film.
Here's an interesting issue for the "liberal media" to ponder:
In January, 2004, when the Des Moines Register made an unexpected endorsement of John Edwards as the best presidential pick for participants in Iowa's Democratic Caucuses, it was national news. The Register, an extremely influential newspaper because of its wide circulation in a relatively small state, shook up the Democratic dance card. The Register's editors found themselves being interviewed on national television and radio programs, as political writers for daily newspapers across the country stumbled over themselves to assess the significance of this particularly influential newspaper's endorsement of a still relatively unknown senator. As it turned out, the attention to the endorsement was merited, as Edwards himself acknowledged that his strong second place finish in the caucuses owed much to the boost he got from one of Middle America's most historically powerful and respected publications.
So what would happen if the same newspaper were to come out this year with a strong editorial calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq? And what if that editorial represented a reversal of the newspaper's previous "stay-the-course position?
Would that be news? Would national media outlets that are supposedly trying to ascertain the changing sentiments of the nation with regard to the war, and that are already busy charting the 2008 presidential competition in Iowa, take notice of an important development in a bellweather state? Might it be considered significant that a large daily newspaper with a national reputation has joined what Editor & Publisher magazine's Greg Mitchell -- who has for two years been noting the lack of serious discussion about ending the war on the nation's editorial pages -- refers to as "the very thin ranks of those proposing an exit strategy"?
The answer, lamentably, is "no."
We know because the Register did endorse a withdrawal timetable in a major editorial published Sunday, March 19, in which the newspaper's editors argued: "The old notion of an open-ended commitment to 'stay the course' no longer makes sense. The nature of the conflict has changed. So must American strategy. A date certain to end the U.S. occupation should be the linchpin of that strategy -- not to abandon Iraq but to put its feuding factions on notice that the United States isn't going to hang around to baby-sit their civil war."
Yet, with the better part of a week gone by, the Register's wise words have barely been noted outside Iowa -- not even by the political reporters who keep every farmer in the state on speed dial in anticipation of the next round of presidential caucuses. (Google "Iowa presidential caucuses" and "200*" and you'll find several hundred articles just from the past few weeks.)
The point here is not to suggest that one Iowa newspaper's shift in stance on the war should dominate the national news. The point is to ask: Why no attention at all?
Why has the same mass media that provides 27/7 coverage of President Bush's latest repetitions of worn arguments for keeping U.S. troops in Iraq displayed no significant interest in the fact that the Register had broken ranks with the lockstep of major American dailies on what is supposed to be a volatile and divisive issue?
Here's one answer: Perhaps, despite all the whining from the White House and its many broadcast, print and digital echo chambers about how the "mainstream media" is too tough on the President and his war, most major news outlets that have taken positions tend to be skeptical but still officially supportive adherents of the president's approach -- as opposed to advocates for the sort of withdrawal timetable that has been advanced by Representative John Murtha, D-Pennsylvania, and that polls suggest the majority of Americans favor. (A recent Gallup Poll found that 54 percent of those surveyed favor withdrawing all U.S. troops from Iraq within a year.)
By endorsing a withdrawal timetable, the Des Moines Register -- the largest-circulation newspaper in one of the most closely watched political environments in the country -- distinguished itself from the vast majority of American daily publications. It also gave voice to popular sentiments that are still too rarely voiced in the major media of the land.
It should have been news. That it was not is one more indictment of the television networks and vast majority of major newspapers of a country where the discourse is far too narrow, and where the term "liberal media" is not merely inaccurate but comic.
Here is the Des Moines Register editorial, "Timetable to Leave Iraq," which appeared March 19, 2006:
The time has come for President Bush to do what he has resolutely insisted he would never do: Set a timetable to end the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
The old notion of an open-ended commitment to "stay the course" no longer makes sense. The nature of the conflict has changed. So must American strategy.
A date certain to end the U.S. occupation should be the linchpin of that strategy -- not to abandon Iraq but to put its feuding factions on notice that the United States isn't going to hang around to baby-sit their civil war.
What was originally thought to be a conflict involving a few insurgents trying to drive out American forces has morphed into something else. The insurgency is no longer about the American occupation. Iraqis are slaughtering Iraqis in a vicious cycle of suicide-bomb atrocities and revenge assassinations.
It¹s a harsh thing to say, but if Sunni and Shiite Iraqis insist on killing one another, let it be without American troops standing in the crossfire.
The United States has no vital interest in taking sides. It does, along with the rest of the world, have an interest in having a peaceful Iraq, but it is increasingly apparent that imposing harmony in a land of centuries-old tribal, religious and ethnic blood feuds is beyond the capacity of 130,000 U.S. troops, no matter how superb their performance and how great their courage.
The U.S. invasion produced chaos and unleashed ancient hatreds, as experts on the Middle East warned it would. President Bush chose not to listen, preferring to believe his own fairy-tale vision of happy Iraqis welcoming Americans. Now, in the words of the nursery rhyme, all the king¹s horses and all the king's men can't put Iraq back together again.
Only the Iraqis themselves can halt the madness.
The last hope for averting all-out civil war and the possible breakup of Iraq is if a national unity government can be established, but members of the ethnically divided parliament have been unable to form such a government. An announcement by the United States that our troops will pull out might help focus the minds of the Baghdad politicians. It would force them to stare into the abyss of a full-blown ethnic civil war with no American troops around to keep the country in one piece.
Once they're on notice of an American departure, Iraqi elected leaders and insurgents alike will have a powerful incentive to reach an accommodation.
Withdrawing U.S. troops does not mean abandoning the region. American diplomats should continue encouraging the formation of a unity government during a phased withdrawal, and the United States should remain obligated to help rebuild the country if order returns. Regardless of what happens, American air power should guarantee the security and autonomy of the Kurds in northern Iraq, who have achieved relative stability in their region and have been staunch friends.
The United States should maintain forces nearby and stand ready to confront any terrorist regime that might emerge in some part of Iraq. The international force must be maintained in Afghanistan, too, to prevent the return of the Taliban and keep up the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
But the military occupation of Iraq has achieved all it can. It's time to redeploy the troops, keeping in mind that the original mission has long since been achieved. No weapons of mass destruction in Iraq threaten America, and a dictator has been deposed. A democratically elected parliament is in place.
Whatever happens from here must be left up to the Iraqis themselves.