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Suppose rioters were wrecking an American city, looting its hospitals and destroying one of the greatest museums in the world.And imagine if, as this happened, one of the nation's most prominent liberal excused the violence by saying, "Stuff happens," and then, when pressed, put a happy face on the looting by saying, "It's untidy. And freedom's untidy. And free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes."
Would it take even 10 minutes for conservatives in Congress and the media to call for the head of the liberal official? How loudly would Rush Limbaugh condemn her irresponsibility? How many times would Sean Hannity blame her for the continued violence? Would Bill O'Reilly demand that the offending official appear to defend herself on Fox TV? Would House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, propose a congressional investigation, removal of the liberal leader, perhaps even criminal prosecution?
No one who has witnessed the faux patriotic policing of the discourse in recent weeks by America's conservative political and media elites could possibly doubt that such a response to rioting would send the yammering yahoos of the right into a frenzy of finger-pointing.
Yet when rioters were tearing up the U.S.-controlled city of Baghdad last week, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld responded by saying, "Stuff happens." Then, echoing statements of other Bush administration apparatchiks, Rumsfeld described the looting of the city as an "untidy" display of freedom. In response to questions about the first signs of chaos in the streets of Baghdad, the Secretary of Defense told Americans that they were seeing "a spontaneous outburst of the oppressed Iraqi people..."
On the day that Rumsfeld was declaring on live television that "free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes," rioters looted the Yarmouk Hospital, carting away not just beds, sheets and medicines but toilets and the ultrasound scanners. They ransacked the ministries of education, agriculture, planning, trade industry and information; and stripped the 10-story Foreign Ministry building down to its carpets. Then they carried the carpets out to waiting trucks. They emptied the shops on main retail streets. And they took -- or destroyed -- 170,000 items from Iraq's National Museum, which had housed a priceless collection of masterpieces and memorabilia dating back across human history from the time of the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Sumarians, the Medes, the Greeks and the Persians.
Marble carvings, stone tablets, clay pots and tablets containing some of the earliest known examples of writing were destroyed or stolen. The pillaging of the Baghdad museum represented far more than an Iraqi loss. John Russell, an archeologist at the Massachusetts College of Art, described the destruction as a blow to "the world's human history." Noting that the museum's collection included some of the earliest examples of mathematics and some of the first legal codes ever written, the British Museum's Dominique Collon described the damage in Baghdad as "truly a world heritage loss."
Items that survived 7,000 years of human history were lost last week in a city controlled by forces under the direction of Donald Rumsfeld. Yet Rumsfeld refused to take any responsibility. "We didn't allow it," he said. "It happened."
But did it have to happen?
Thousands of the finest soldiers in the world were in and around Baghdad. They could have protected government buildings, hospitals and the world's great archeological and historical treasures. (U.S. Defense Department officials had, months ago, promised top archaeologists from around the world that such protection would be provided at the museum.) And everyone agrees they would have had little trouble preventing the looting of key buildings. "The Americans were supposed to protect the museum. If they had just one tank and two soldiers nothing like this would have happened," said Nabhal Amin, the museum's deputy director.
That U.S. troops, many of whom were within blocks of the museum, were not given orders to protect is stunning to the world's great archeologists. "The Baghdad museum is the equivalent of the Cairo Museum," said University of Chicago professor McGuire Gibson. "It would be like having American soldiers 200 feet outside the Cairo museum watching people carry away treasures from King Tut's tomb or carting away mummies."
But the troops were assigned to other tasks: such as pulling down a statue of Saddam Hussein for the TV cameras and defending the building that houses the Iraqi Ministry of, you guessed it, Oil. (A March 25 release from the Marines described securing Iraq's oil producing regions as "one of the first objectives of Operation Iraqi Freedom," and Rumsfeld has acknowledged at press conferences that securing oil wells was a top priority for the military -- inspiring a headline in the satirical newspaper The Onion that read: "137 More Oil Wells Liberated for Democracy.")While the Ministry of Oil was protected, the National Museum was left to the looters.
When U.S. and allied troops took charge of the great cities of Europe during World War II, they proudly defended museums and other cultural institutions. They could have done the same in Baghdad. And they would have, had a signal come from the Pentagon.But the boss at the Pentagon, Donald Rumsfeld, who had promised to teach the Iraqi people how to live in freedom, was too busy explaining that rioting and looting are what free people are free to do.
A year ago this spring, I spent several days in Minnesota trailing US Sen. Paul Wellstone as he campaigned for a third term. Wellstone, the most progressive Democrat in the Senate, was battling against a full-scale assault from the Bush White House and its chosen candidate, former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman.
Coleman, a Democrat-turned-Republican, liberal-turned-conservative, activist-turned-insider, had a reputation as one of the most egregious political hustlers the state had ever seen. There were plenty of sordid tales to be told about the man White House political czar Karl Rove was packaging as the candidate of conservative principles, patriotism and traditional family values. Garrison Keillor, the host of "A Prairie Home Companion," referred to Coleman as "this cheap fraud" and, echoing the sentiments of a lot of in-the-know Minnesotans, said of Coleman's political ascension: "To accept it and grin and shake the son of a bitch's hand is to ignore what cannot be ignored if you want your grandchildren to grow up in a country like the one that nurtured and inspired you."
I asked Wellstone whether he thought that, considering Coleman's high sleaze factor, this intense Senate race might eventually focus on the personal and political foibles of the Republican nominee. "I won't let that happen," Wellstone said, with the warm drawl that his voice took on after a long day of campaigning. "Norm Coleman and I disagree enough on the issues. And I disagree with the Bush White House on the issues. I wouldn't want to win a race that focused on Norm's personality or his style. That's not right. Minnesota deserves better."
Wellstone was so determined to avoid cheap shots at Coleman that, even in private conversations, he refused to reflect on his opponent's foibles.
Minnesotans recognized Wellstone's grace and dignity, and polls suggested that they were preparing to re-elect him by a wide margin when a plane crash just days before the election killed the senator and his wife, Sheila, as well as their daughter, Marcia, and five others. The grief, confusion and political churn of the days following Wellstone's death created an opening that Coleman would not otherwise have had, and he won the Senate seat -- at least in part because he promised to honor his late opponent's legacy and hailed Wellstone as a "selfless public servant who embodied the best of Minnesota."
Now that he is settled in the Senate, however, Coleman's true stripes are showing. And it has become clear that, in addition to abandoning Wellstone's political principles, Coleman has also rejected his predecessor's reticence about taking political cheap shots at foes -- living or dead.
During an interview with the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call last week, Coleman waved an unlit cigar in the air and declared: "To be very blunt and God watch over Paul's soul, I am a 99 percent improvement over Paul Wellstone," Coleman told the reporter. "Just about on every issue."
The reporter offered Coleman a chance to redeem himself by asking about the remaining 1 percent. But Coleman didn't bite. Instead, he complained about Wellstone's political independence. "Wellstone was never with the president," explained Coleman, referring to the Democrat's refusal to go along with the Bush administration's agenda. "I could be with the president most of the time."
The new senator even found time to dismiss the suggestion from some of Wellstone's grieving supporters that his replacement might want to maintain some of his predecessor's legacy. "They lost their champion and they thought something was taken away," Coleman said of Wellstone backers. "All you can do is say, ‘Hey, I mourn the loss, but I am here and I am going to do what I think is the right thing to do and thank God I have a chance to be here.'"
U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., described Coleman's remarks as inappropriate, disrespectful and "an unnecessary attack on a leader our state continues to mourn." She demanded an apology, as did 100 demonstrators who gathered outside Coleman's St. Paul office. Martha Bellou, one of the demonstrators, summed the mood up when she referred to Coleman "defaming the dead" and allowed as how, "Even for Norm this is a new low."
After first refusing to apologize, Coleman grudgingly acknowledged: "The people of Minnesota should expect more from this senator."
At least Norm Coleman was right about that.
Ever since US forces marched into Iraq, conservatives in Congress and their media stenographers have been at war with Americans who fail to read from the Bush Administration's political script.
US Sen Jim Bunning, R-Kentucky, was ranting the other day about charging former MSNBC correspondent Peter Arnett with "treason," after the always controversial journalist gave a ill-conceived yet thoroughly inconsequential interview to Iraqi television. Then, last Friday, 104 Republican members of the US House of Representatives signed a letter demanding that Columbia University fire an assistant professor of anthropology whose extreme -- if not extremely significant -- statements against the US war had made him a favorite target of the New York Post's patriotism police.
Members of Congress, who should be performing their constitutionally-mandated advice and consent duties with regard to the war and its aftermath, are instead asking: "Would you like a witchhunt with those Freedom Fries?" By and large, the Republican torch bearers get points from their constituents and are written off as yahoos by everyone else. But there is a political point to this demonization of dissent and discourse. And it has been evident in the attempts to discredit US Sen. John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who has emerged as something of a frontrunner in the race for his party's 2004 presidential nomination.
Kerry is not exactly a threatening figure. Indeed, the Massachusetts senator is less than the sum of his parts. He is reasonably smart, reasonably liberal, reasonably handsome and possessed of a distinguished record of service in the Vietnam War. This ought to make him a dream candidate for Democrats who are still casting about for an alternative to George W. Bush, who has no record of distinguished service -- in times of war, or peace. But Kerry tends to waffle on big issues -- he raised great questions about granting Bush Fast Track authority to negotiate sweeping new free-trade agreements, yet he voted for legislation authorizing Fast Track; he has expressed concern about threats to civil liberties, yet he voted for the draconian USA Patriot Act. He seemed to object to Bush's rush to war with Iraq, yet he voted for the October resolution that continues to provide the White House with a flimsy excuse for launching a preemptive war against a sovereign state.
So why are conservatives all hot and bothered about Kerry?
During a discussion at the town library in Peterborough, New Hampshire, where Kerry was campaigning in anticipation of next year's first-in-the-nation primary, the senator let loose with a comment that echoed posters, bumper stickers, campaign pins, reasonable magazine commentaries and casual comments heard across the United States in recent months. Speaking of Bush's inept approach to international relations in advance of the current war, Kerry said, "Regardless of how successful the United States is in waging war against Iraq, it will take a new president to rebuild the country's damaged relationships with the rest of the world," Kerry told the overflow crowd. "What we need now is not just a regime change in Saddam Hussein and Iraq, but we need a regime change in the United States."
Turning the Bush Administration's rhetoric about "regime change" around on the White House has obvious rhetorical appeal -- especially among grassroots Democrats. The word "regime" generally refers to a government that lacks credibility because of how it came to power or how it exercises its authority. That description is one that many Democrats would apply to the Bush Administration. After all, George W. Bush failed to win the popular vote in 2000 and only assumed the presidency after the Florida recount debacle and a controversial intervention by a 5-4 majority of the US Supreme Court. Since they swept into Washington, the Bush team has been rocked by scandals linking key administration figures to corporate corruption, official secrecy, power grabs, assaults on Constitutionally-protected freedoms and abuses of the checks and balances system.
Kerry was not reading out a detailed indictment of the Bush Administration. Rather, he was discussing the challenge of repairing the US image abroad in the aftermath of what Kerry described as Bush's ''end-run around the UN.'' "I don't think (other nations are) going to trust this president, no matter what,'' Kerry explained. ''I believe it deeply, that it will take a new president of the United States, declaring a new day for our relationship with the world, to clear the air and turn a new page on American history.''
Coming in this context, Kerry's "regime change" was precisely the sort of savvy, somewhat-serious, somewhat lighthearted reference that a candidate who is in touch with his audience would offer. It certainly did not put Kerry, who is anything but adventurous, outside the circle of accepted discourse.
But this did not prevent conservative "message" teams, talk radio ranters and Republican members of Congress from spinning the senator's statement into a political firestorm that may well end up aiding Kerry's candidacy -- indeed, Kerry said it was a "pleasure" to be attacked by the chair of the Congressional Yahoo Caucus, House Majority Leader Tom Delay, who failed to serve in Vietnam but seldom fails to question the patriotism of Democrats who did wear the country's uniform. Delay can usually be counted on to embarrass himself and the House. But in the dispute over Kerry's remarks, Delay was not the source of the most ridiculously partisan statement. That came from Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., who said, "With our commander-in-chief facing a deadly conflict overseas, Senator Kerry's comments certainly cause one to wonder whether he has the sensitivity and the judgment commensurate with the office he seeks."
Frist seems to forget that US troops are the ones who are marching into a deadly conflict - just as Kerry did in Vietnam. President Bush, who like Frist successfully avoided serving in Vietnam, will not be hearing the sound of bullets any time soon. And it is absurd to suggest that the war effort could be threatened in any way by the suggestion that Americans may decide in 2004 to replace Bush with someone who has a little more military experience.
Ironically, Frist's attack on his Senate colleague contained the perfect rejoinder to the GOP criticism of Kerry. "Free and open discourse is one thing," Frist said, "but petty, partisan insults launched solely for personal political gain are highly inappropriate at a time when American men and women are in harm's way." Frist's silly grumbling about Kerry's sensitivity and judgment provides an exceptional example of what "petty, partisan insults launched for personal political gain" sound like.
Americans who have tried to get the Bush Administration to listen to their concerns regarding war with Iraq will sympathize with the millions of British citizens who have expressed anger at Prime Minister Tony Blair's willingness to bend to the foreign policy whims of George W. Bush's White House. At times, Blair and his aides are so pliant that they appear no more conscious or competent than members of the US Congress.
But fair is fair. Now that Blair's crew has gone along with the Bush Administration's war with Iraq, it is only reasonable that the American president and his aides accept the wisdom of the British with regards to the expansion of the war.
After Donald Rumsfeld, started ranting about Syria last week, international analysts -- along with astute domestic observers of the Bush team -- began to worry about whether this administration is already looking for another war to fight. That's an understandable concern, as the president himself has identified Iran and North Korea as members with Iraq of an "axis of evil." With the administration's neo-conservative gurus preaching a mantra of global governance that would have the US invading countries on a regular basis, it doesn't require much of a stretch of the imagination to foresee an ever widening war in the Middle East -- and beyond.
But the British, who have broken with most of the rest of the world to join the US invasion of Iraq, are not enthusiastic about starting a fight with Syria. Or Iran. Or any of the other countries that are in the sites of Bush, Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney and the rest of the desk warriors in Washington.
After Rumsfeld ramped up the rhetoric with regards to Syria, British Foreign Minister Jack Straw announced that his country would have "nothing whatever" to do with military action against Syria -- a country with which Straw said the British had "worked hard to try to improve relations." Blair's foreign affairs aide also ruled out a war with Iran, another country that Washington has targeted for verbal assaults.
"Iran is an emerging democracy and there would be no case whatsoever for taking any kind of (military) action (against it)," Straw said.
The Bush Administration does not have a taste for genuine international partnerships where both countries have a place in policy making -- as the French learned when they raised questions about the president's rush to war. But the "special relationship" between the US and Britain may cause some in the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon to pay attention to Jack Straw and the British government.
A great many Americans understand that it would be fiscal, political and practical madness to broaden the Iraq war into a regional struggle. But few Americans expect the president to listen to his fellow citizens on this question, as the Bush Administration has shown little respect for the demands of democracy -- or the Constitution. Thus, the best hope for wisdom to win out over presidential whim may rest with the prospect that a sense of loyalty on the part of Bush, Rumsfeld and their team to the administration's British allies will lead some in Washington to hear Jack Straw say "no."
In the old Soviet bloc states, the official line of the ruling elites did not always come from the government itself. Often it was delivered by journalists who would amplify the party line with "independent" analysis and comment.
Thus, while officials dealt in vapid generalities about programs for the people, the opinion "commissars" would offer rigid defenses of the party line and demonize those who expressed even the slightest doubts.
Washington in 2003 is certainly different from Bucharest in 1953. But Americans seeking to get a flavor of the old inside-outside strategy of matching official "tolerance" for dialogue with semi-official ranting about the dangers of dissent need look no further than William Kristol's recent appearances on the Fox News Channel programs.
Kristol, the editor of Rupert Murdoch's Weekly Standard, is a charming, reasonably soft-spoken figure who has a good deal of influence in the Bush White House and a passionate faith in the neo-conservative fantasy that people around the world wish their countries would be invaded. Of late, Kristol has been spinning harder than White House spokesman Ari Fleischer -- pulling out all the stops in hopes of convincing Americans that the war in Iraq is going as it should and that questioners of the war's wisdom or prosecution are, at best, irrational.
Though he is a magazine editor, Kristol was quicker than Fleischer to wag a finger at reporters who might question why the war is not quite the "cakewalk" that neo-conservative commentators and Vice President Dick Cheney predicted. Defending the administration, Kristol grumbled during a Fox appearance last week that, "They're doing fine, and remember the media does not represent the country. I want to repeat, there is no empirical evidence today that Americans are impatient for the end of this war."
Readers of the Weekly Standard got an extended version of Kristol's remarks. "Here's the good news about the American people: They're not affected by the silly mood swings of much of the media," he explained. "Americans outside newsrooms and TV studios understand that wars are often difficult and usually unpredictable."
If Mr. Kristol were to leave the comfortable confines of the Washington Beltway, he might be surprised to learn that a lot of Americans actually believed the pre-war spin of the Bush administration and neo-conservative commentators about how Iraqis were anxiously awaiting invasion, er, liberation.
Even on a short trip to America, Kristol would find plenty of empirical evidence of impatience, uncertainty, anger and questioning as regards the progress of this war. I've spent the past few days at country crossroads, in small towns and in big cities across the upper Midwest and I have heard intense discussions about this war's unexpected and troubling turns, about whether the Bush administration and its neo-conservative cheerleaders presented an "unrealistic" picture of what was coming, and about whether the best way to support the troops might be to bring them home.
The discussions on Fox News' "Special Report" and CNN's "News Night" may still be on the silly side. But the conversations in church basements in places like Viroqua, Wisconsin, have turned serious. "Did they really not know what to expect in Iraq, or did they just lie to us?" asked a teacher, summing up a line of questioning and comment I heard again and again.
Some of this shift in sentiment is captured in polling. An analysis by MSNBC of a survey conducted for that network over the weekend suggests that "while Americans support the president, the poll also found a growing unease with the progress of the war against Iraq. Nine percent of those surveyed said the war was proceeding better than expected, a drop from a poll conducted March 23, in which 25 percent expressed optimism with the war's prosecution. Conversely, 20 percent said the war was going worse than expected, a 100 percent increase from the 10 percent who expressed misgivings in the March 23 poll."
The MSNBC report adds that "Americans are largely split on whether the Bush administration properly assessed both the strength of the Iraqi military response and the support of the Iraqi people for President Saddam Hussein. The latest poll found that 48 percent thought the administration did underestimate the Iraqi military, while 46 percent did not. When it comes to the solidarity of Iraqis behind Saddam, polling was split down the middle: 45 percent thought the administration underestimated Saddam's popular support, and 45 percent did not."
In the African-American community -- which is paid scant attention by national media -- anecdotal evidence and polling suggest there is heightened concern about the administration's credibility and the wisdom of this war. According to a new Gallup Poll, 68 percent of African-Americans now oppose the war.
"Blacks are not willing to feel obliged to support the president's agenda," explains Illinois state Sen. Barack Obama. "They are much more likely to feel that (Bush) is engaging in disruptive policies at home and using the war as a means of shielding himself from criticism on his domestic agenda."
That skepticism is healthy in a democracy. And my sense after spending a good deal of time in recent days with African-Americans and white Americans, Democrats and Republicans, city folks and rural folks, is that it is far more widespread than our neo-conservative commissars would have Americans believe.
Well, we can rest assured that the Academy Awards voting is not rigged.
Going into Sunday night's Oscars' ceremony, it was a safe bet that, if the people who run the movie-industry's annual prize patrol had their druthers, antiwar filmmaker Michael Moore would not have gotten anywhere near a microphone. Moore, who wore a badge reading "Shoot Movies, Not Iraqis," when he accepted an Independent Spirit Award the night before, had promised that if he won an Oscar he would use his acceptance speech to make an issue of Bush's war. With right-wing talk radio hosts and members of the Congressional Yahoo Caucus already ranting and roaring about unpatriotic celebrities, the pressure was on to avoid controversy.
But, to a greater extent than just about anyone in Hollywood, Moore embraces controversy. And the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences voters who decided the winner of the best documentary feature competition embraced Moore's "Bowling for Columbine," a hilarious and haunting examination of gun violence, poverty and the media in America. The Academy voters gave the rabble-rousing filmmaker, author and activist an Oscar for his documentary -- as well as an opportunity to deliver 45 seconds of "message" to the world.
Moore took the stage, and immediately took after Bush and the war in Iraq.
Surrounded by his fellow nominees in the best documentary category, Moore announced, "They're here in solidarity with me because we like nonfiction. We like nonfiction and we live in fictitious times. We live in the time where we have fictitious election results that elect a fictitious president. We live in a time where we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons. Whether it's the fiction of duct tape or (the) fiction of Orange Alerts, we are against this war, Mr. Bush."
As the packed auditorium at Hollywood's Kodak Theater erupted with a wild mix of applause and booing, Moore yelled: "Shame on you, Mr. Bush, shame on you." He closed by noting the international opposition to the US attack on Iraq -- which includes everyone from religious leaders to country music stars. Addressing Bush, Moore said, "Any time you got the Pope and the Dixie Chicks against you, your time is up."
Moore's was not the only antiwar voice heard at what may well have been the most politically-charged Academy Awards ceremony ever. Dozens of stars wore peace pins and Artists United to Win Without War badges. As he introduced a song from the film "Frida," which tells the story of radical artist Frida Kahlo, actor Gael Garcia Bernal interrupted his scripted remarks to say, "The necessity for peace in the world is not a dream. It is a reality, and we are not alone. If Frida was alive, she would be on our side, against war."
Actress Barbra Streisand defended free speech rights. Actress Susan Sarandon flashed a peace sign as she appeared on the stage. Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, an outspoken foe of the war who won the best original screenplay award for his film "Talk to Her," dedicated his Oscar "to all the people that are raising their voices in favor of peace, respect of human rights, democracy and international legality." And Nicole Kidman, who won the best actress Oscar for playing Virginia Woolf in "The Hours," spoke of the pain of "families losing people" in a time of war.
Actor Adrien Brody, who won the best actor Oscar for his performance in the Holocaust-themed film "The Pianist," expressed his great joy at the unexpected honor. He then insisted on a bit more time to say, "I am also filled with a lot of sadness tonight because I am accepting an award at such a strange time. And you know my experiences of making this film made me very aware of the sadness and the dehumanization of people at times of war. And the repercussions of war. And whatever you believe in, if it's God or Allah, may he watch over you and let's pray for a peaceful and swift resolution."
Accepting the best supporting actor award for his role in the film "Adaptation," actor Chris Cooper closed his speech with a succinct message: "In light of all the troubles in the world, I wish us all -- peace."
"In all good conscience, I cannot and will not vote for a resolution that supports and endorses a failed policy that led us to war," declared US Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, as he explained why he could not join most members of Congress in backing what Republican leaders on the House of Representatives cynically described as a simple "support our troops" resolution.
The resolution, which passed the House by an overwhelming margin Friday morning, did express support for soldiers who have been ordered into combat in Iraq, and for the families of young men and women who wear the uniform of the United States in a time of war. But those sentiments came wrapped in a highly partisan expression of "unequivocal support . . . for [President Bush's] firm leadership and decisive action in the conduct of military operations in Iraq." After a failed attempt by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, to extract the more extreme cheerleading language – perhaps by paralleling the more reasoned wording of the resolution that passed the Senate 99-1 on Thursday – the measure passed the House by a vote of 392-11, with 22 members voting "present."
Many of the House Democrats and Republicans who opposed the October "use of force" resolution that the administration used as justification for launching the war expressed discomfort with Friday's "unequivocal support" statement. But most, including Pelosi, backed it.
The bulk of the opposition to the measure came from members of the Congressional Black Caucus, such as Lewis, the civil rights movement hero who is frequently referred to as the conscience of the Congress. An angry U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Michigan, said, "I trust the American people to see through this attempt to coerce endorsement of his preventive war doctrine."
The ranking Democratic member of the House Judiciary Committee and the longest-serving African-American member of Congress, Conyers has been outspoken in expressing Constitutional concerns about the president's decision to launch the war. "What I'm telling my colleagues in Congress and citizens is that we must continue to protest this illegal and unconstitutional war," argues Conyers. "The president has no authority to do what he's doing."
On the 11 House Democrats who voted against the "unequivocal support" resolution, eight were members of the Congressional Black Caucus: Conyers; Ohioan Stephanie Tubbs Jones; Californians Barbara Lee, Diane Watson and Maxine Waters; New Yorkers Charles Rangel and Edolphus Towns; and Virginian Bobby Scott. They were joined by California Democrats Mike Honda and Pete Stark, as well as Washington state's Jim McDermott.
Fifteen members of the CBC, including Lewis, CBC chair Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, and CBC vice-chair Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, voted present. They were joined by seven other House members, including leaders of the anti-war block in the Democratic caucus, such as Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio. In addition to Lewis, Cummings, Johnson and Kucinich, "present" votes came from California's Sam Farr; Florida's Corrine Brown; Indiana's Julia Carson; Missouri's William Clay Jr.; Maryland's Elijah Cummings; Illinois' Danny Davis, Jesse Jackson Jr., Bobby Rush and Jan Schakowsky; Michigan's Carolyn Kilpatrick; Minnesota's Martin Olav Sabo; New Jersey's Donald Payne; New York's Gregory Meeks and Major Owens; North Carolina's Mel Watt; Ohio's Sherrod Brown; and Texans Sheila Jackson-Lee and Lloyd Doggett. The single Republican to vote against the resolution was Texan Ron Paul.
The House members who opposed the resolution or voted "present" went out of their way to express sympathy for soldiers and their families. But many also expressed outrage at the determination of House Republican leaders, particularly Majority Leader Tom DeLay, D-Texas, to play politics with the matter.
California's Diane Watson, a former U.S. ambassador to Micronesia, summed up those sentiments after voting against the resolution.
,"As our troops endure the risks of battle in Iraq, we send to them our thoughts and prayers for their success and safe return. This is a time for all Americans to join in sending a clear message of support for our men and women in uniform," explained Watson. "That is why I am saddened and angered that the House Republican leaders would abuse an opportunity to show our troops support in order to make an overtly political statement. Rather than introduce a simple bill supporting our troops, House Republicans forced us to vote up or down on a resolution that endorses the President's mishandling of diplomacy and heedless march toward war."
Watson said Republicans "hijacked this resolution for their selfish political purposes."
"I support the troops," she added. "But I will not be coerced into endorsing the President's failure to resolve the Iraq dispute peacefully. We are not at war because it is necessary. We are at war because the President failed to find a diplomatic solution to this problem."
In the last note that 23-year-old American college student Rachel Corrie wrote to her father from a Palestinian community on the Gaza Strip, she thanked Craig Corrie for stepping up his antiwar activism in the United States and urged him to continue speaking out against a US-led attack on Iraq. Four days later, on March 16, Rachel was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer as she attempted to prevent the destruction of a Palestinian physician's home. Even as he and Rachel's mother mourned the death of their daughter, they carried out her wish Wednesday on the terrace of the Cannon House Office Building in Washington, DC.
With three Democratic members of Congress from Rachel Corrie's homestate of Washington -- Jim McDermott and Brian Baird, who voted against the October resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq, and Adam Smith, who voted for it -- standing behind them, Craig and Cynthia Corrie read a statement that poignantly added their daughter's voice to the chorus of corncern regarding the Bush Administration's launch of a preemptive war with Iraq.
"We are speaking out today because of Rachel's fears about the impact of a war with Iraq on the people in the Occupied Territories. She reported to us that her Palestinian friends were afraid that with all eyes on Iraq, the Israeli Defense Forces would escalate activity in the Occupied Territories. Rachel wanted to be in Gaza if that happened," explained Cynthia Corrie. "In the last six weeks, Rachel became our eyes and ears for Rafah, a city at the southern tip of Gaza. Now that she's no longer there, we are asking members of Congress and, truly, all the world to watch and listen."
The Corries expressed particular concern for international activists and Palestinians who are seeking to prevent home demolitions, as Rachel Corrie was on the Sunday she was killed. "We are asking members of Congress to bring the US government's attention back to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis and to recognize that the occupation of the Palestinian territories is an overwhelming and continuous act of collective violence against the Palestinian people," said the Corries. "We ask that military aid to Israel be commensurate with its efforts to end its occupation of the Palestinian Territories and to adhere to the rules of international law."
Rachel Corrie, who was due to graduate this year from Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, was a longtime activist on environmental, social justice and peace issues. Before traveling this winter to the Gaza Strip to join International Solidarity Movement protests against the tactics used by the Israeli military in Palestinian refugee camp, she was active in Olympia's antiwar movement. Her parents said they had learned from Rachel that they must speak out loudly against violence. "Rachel's brutal death illustrates dramatically the madness of war," explained Craig Corrie, an insurance actuary.
Rachel Corrie's parents are not the only ones being inspired to action by her death. Baird, the congressman who represents the Olympia area, said he would introduce a House resolution calling for an investigation by the US State Department of Corrie's death. "I am a strong supporter of Israel, but that doesn't mean you look away," said Baird. "It is incumbent for our State Department to conduct a thorough and comprehensive investigation" of the incident, added Baird, who described the circumstances of Corrie's death as "profoundly troubling to me" and said "I think people should be held accountable."
Baird ripped into conservatives who have criticized Rachel Corrie for placing herself in harm's way as part of a political protest. "To suggest a nonviolent person should be run over by a bulldozer because she said and did things we don't agree with, I find that morally repugnant," argued the congressman. "This is not just about Israeli policy, this is about Israeli conduct against an unarmed American citizen engaged in nonviolent action."
McDermott echoed the call for an investigation and for respect of Rachel Corrie's nonviolent activism, saying, "We must look at this event in the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King. A girl took action against a policy (home demolitions) that needs to have the light of day shown upon it."
It appears that George W. Bush will get his war. But it will be a war begun in failure. Even as Republican and Democratic Congressional leaders in the United States dutifully signed up with promises of support or silence regarding a war many of them know to be unnecessary, the blunt reality is that this American president has failed to convince the world of the need for a war with Iraq.
The president's dramatic defeat in the court of international public opinion was acknowledged Monday, when the administration abandoned its doomed effort to win a go-ahead from the United Nations Security Council for warmaking.
That rejection of diplomacy was met with a diplomatic response from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who telegraphed his frustration with a read-between-the-lines statement to the effect that, "If the action is to take place without the support of the Council, its legitimacy will be questioned and the support for it will be diminished." Others were not so gentle in their assessment.
Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair abandoned their attempt to get a new UN resolution, said Jean-Marc de La Sabliere, the French ambassador to the UN, because the argument for war was unconvincing. "It (the resolution) did not get the votes because the majority of the UN and, I would say the majority of people in the world, do not think it would be right to have the Council authorize the use of force," he explained.
It was not just the French who noted the collapse of the Bush Administration's diplomatic initiative.
The leader of the British House of Commons, Robin Cook, who quit Blair's Cabinet to protest the Prime Minister's commitment of British troops to the US cause, articulated the reasoned view of that failure when he argued on Tuesday that: "The harsh reality is that Britain is being asked to embark on a war without agreement in any of the international bodies of which we are a leading member. Not Nato. Not the EU. And now not the security council. To end up in such diplomatic isolation is a serious reverse. Only a year ago we and the US were part of a coalition against terrorism which was wider and more diverse than I would previously have thought possible. History will be astonished at the diplomatic miscalculations that led so quickly to the disintegration of that powerful coalition."
In the United States, Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Dennis Kucinich, who may be the closest thing the current Congress has to an opposition leader, said, "The President's decision to push our nation, and the world, to the brink of war, in the face of intense international opposition, and without UN approval is a failure by this Administration to exercise world leadership and a grave mistake. The Administration's decision to withdraw its resolution from the United Nations Security Council is a dramatic admission of its failure to convince the world of its case against Iraq."
Despite months of cajoling, conniving and, when all else failed, behind-the-scenes offers of economic aid and political consideration, the Bush Administration could not convince the chief target audience -- Security Council members -- that there was sufficient legal or moral justification for war at this time. To wit:
* The president and his aides built their case for war on a "foundation" of discredited data, including reports of supposed Iraqi "threats" that turned out to have been misread, falsified or, in the case of a key British document, reliant upon out-of-date information culled from the Internet.
* The president and his aides repeatedly attempted to establish a connection between Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and the al-Qaida terrorist network, yet they never succeeded in doing so. The unrelenting focus on finding such a linkage undermined the Administration's broader argument for war. It became clear to the international community that if there was the slightest shred of evidence, the administration would have produced it. And they were never able to do so.
* The president refused to perform basic diplomatic duties. In particular, he failed to maintain personal contact with leaders of countries that questioned his stance - especially French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Neither the president nor Secretary of State Colin Powell engaged in the sort of international travel and one-on-one communication that former President George Bush and former Secretary of State James Baker used to build coalition support for the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
The mumbles, stumbles and bumbles that characterized the Bush Administration's approach to the question of how best to disarm Iraq served to isolate the White House from leaders with whom Bush thought he had built solid personal relationships, such as Russia's Vladimir Putin and Mexico's Vicente Fox. And it has severely strained relations with historic US allies such as Germany and China. The veteran French journalist Gérard Dupuy used a physical metaphor to explain the diplomatic reality. "In the end, Mr. Bush finds himself backed up by the only two leaders who have stuck by him from the beginning - Mr Blair and (Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria) Aznar," noted Dupuy, as he described the one-hour "summit" on an island in the Azores at which the determination was made to reject diplomacy. "Their meeting on an American base lost in the immensity of the Atlantic neatly symbolises the isolation of a president who has fallen victim to his own mediocrity."
Nothing that the president said in Monday night's televised address to the nation, and the world, changed the fact that George W. Bush has entered the international arena and stumbled. Badly. His ultimatum to Iraq's Saddam - leave the country or face the "serious consequences" mentioned in U.N. Resolution 1441 - made war seem inevitable.
If war comes, however, it will not be the war that any thoughtful American president could have wanted. Rather, it will be a misguided mission pursued by a troublingly small "coalition of the willing" - with most coalition "partners" there against the will of the people in their countries.
A wiser president might have refused to go ahead without having convinced more of the world. Then again, a wiser president would not have pursued this path in the first place.
After all, the point of diplomacy is not to wage an unrelenting campaign for an unpopular result. The point of diplomacy is to propose action, open a dialogue about the plan and then to refine and improve the approach until the theoretical becomes the possible. It is about winning the faith of others.
George W. Bush leads the world's remaining superpower. That position places great responsibilities on his shoulders. The greatest of these is to engage seriously and sincerely in the diplomatic process that allows for the collective wisdom of many nations to inform the actions of the United States.
President Bush has failed to meet that responsibility. He has let his country down. He has let his world down. The Spanish newspaper El Pais said it best in an editorial that read, "Diplomacy has ended because the US president has had enough of negotiating..."
No one has made life on the campaign trail more difficult for several of the frontrunning candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination than US Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.
Last October, Harkin joined Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, North Carolina Senator John Edwards, Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman and Missouri Representative Richard Gephardt in voting for the resolution that authorized President Bush to take military action against Iraq. But, last week, Harkin admitted that he has been wrong to believe the Bush Administration was serious about exploring diplomatic alternatives to war.
If Congress were to vote again, Harkin said, he would oppose the resolution. "I'm not going to be fooled twice," the Iowan told hometown media in Des Moines. "As I look back it sure looks like the administration was never serious about resolving the situation peacefully," said Harkin, who complained that Bush has acted "like the cowboy who rode out of Texas, all guns blazing."
One of a growing number of Congressional Democrats who voted for the October resolution but who now are critical of the president's failure to respect language that instructed the Administration to pursue diplomatic solutions, Harkin said, "In my adult life, with the exception of Vietnam, this has been the biggest failure of diplomacy I've seen."
Harkin's vote in favor of the October resolution deeply disappointed many Democrats in Iowa, where antiwar sentiment always runs high. And Harkin never suggested that he was overly happy with his vote; indeed, when he delivered the eulogy at Paul Wellstone's memorial service last fall, Harkin praised the late Minnesota senator for having the courage to vote against the resolution.
But, even if Harkin was there uncomfortably, having Iowa's most prominent national Democrat in the pro-resolution camp provided cover for Democratic presidential contenders such as Kerry, Edwards, Lieberman and, above all, Gephardt, who helped organize support for the use-of-force resolution when he served as House Minority Leader. For presidential candidates who backed the resolution, it was a relief to be able to respond to questions about a possible war by saying, "Like Tom Harkin..."
Now, they are no longer "like Harkin." The Iowan says he did not mean to stir up trouble for the contenders for his party's 2004 nomination. But Harkin, himself a former presidential candidate, is too sly a political player not to have known that his statement would stir the political pot. And so it did. In fact, when several of the Democratic candidates arrived in Iowa after Harkin had revealed his new stance, the candidates found that the pot was boiling. In a state where even Republicans -- like Iowa City-area Congressman Jim Leach -- have taken antiwar stances, the sentiments among Democratic activists tend to echo those of Polk County party leader Barbara Boatwright, who says, "I'd like to hear something stronger from Congress. I wish we'd have an outcry and protest from Democratic members of Congress."
That was certainly the message Gephardt got when he arrived in Sioux City over the weekend to talk with Democratic activists whose support he will need in next January's first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses. The man who won the state's Democratic presidential caucuses in 1988 took a battering from people like Western Iowa Tech Community College job training director Chris Hansen. "Congress has completely addicated its duty," Hansen told Gephardt at a gathering of Woodbury County Truman Club members. "You've given up the final check and balance on this thing."
Gephardt made a determined effort to steer the conversation toward domestic issues -- such as education and health care -- chosen to illustrate areas of agreement with the roughly 40 Democrats who had gathered to hear him. But it was to no avail. "If we're going to go to war, shouldn't Congress fulfill its constitutional duty and declare that war?" inquired Tom Whitmore, a veteran Democratic activist in the Sioux City area.
Gephardt, who said he would "stand behind my vote" on the October resolution, rejected talk about the need for a new vote by Congress. "If you're saying you want to pass a resolution that says (the US) can't do anything if we can't get the whole UN wound up behind us, then you're really turning decision-making on a very important security matter over to the United Nations. I don't want to do that."
Gephardt's unwavering stance puts him in the camp of Lieberman, who pretty much parrots the Bush line on Iraq, and Edwards, who apologetically tells Iowa Democrats that his position is a matter of "conscience" and then struggles to shift the discussion to domestic issues. On the other side are two candidates who voted against the October resolution, House Progressive Caucus chair Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, and former Senate Intelligence Committee chair Bob Graham, D-Florida, and three candidates sharpyl critical of war, civil rights activist Al Sharpton, former US Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, and former Vermont Governor Howard Dean.
In the middle, and thus in the most difficult position following Harkin's shift, is Kerry. When the Massachusetts senator arrived in Iowa Sunday for a series of campaign appearances, he was grilled on his views on Bush's rush to war. Asked directly by the Des Moines Register, Kerry was reported to have "stopped short" of saying that he too regretted his vote last October. "What I do regret is that this Administration has not lived up to the standards of diplomacy set forth in the resolution," said the man who is seen by many Democrats as the frontrunner for the party's presidential nod. "The president's diplomacy has been completely lacking."
Aside from his murky stance on the question of whether his vote for the "use of force" resolution was a good one, Kerry's comments on Bush sound similar to those of the candidate who most frequently criticizes Kerry for backing the resolution: Dean. In Des Moines, Kerry was particularly aggressive, arguing that, "The greatest position of strength is by exercising the best judgement in the pursuit of diplomacy, not in some trumped-up, so-called coalition of the bribed, the coerced, the bought and the extorted, but in a genuine coalition."
That also sounds a lot like Harkin, save for the Iowa senator's acknowledgement that Congress was wrong to give up so much authority to Bush. Harkin is a smart politician, who knows his state well. Indeed, as Woodbury County Democratic Party chair Al Sturgeon explained after the Sioux City session with Gephardt, "If I had a nickel for every time someone told me Congress wrote Bush a blank check, the Woodbury County Democrats would be in good shape."