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Katrina vanden Heuvel | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

David Broder's Tipping Point

You know this is a tipping point moment when veteran Washington Post columnist David Broder, a barometer of conventional wisdom, writes that "the shadow of defeat" is crossing President Bush's "political horizon."

In a recent column Broder--the dean of American political punditry--offered a bleak picture of Bush's reelection chances. Why does this matter? Well, as Eric Alterman points out in his smart and timely book, "What Liberal Media," Broder is "revered by elite journalists for his alleged ability...to speak to what is understood to be the common sense 'middle ground' of American politics."

So, Beltway insiders take notice when Broder pontificates--in this case, he lays out the grim ramifications of AWOL WMDs, mounting casualties in a guerrilla war, and a rotten economy on Bush's reelection chances.

Could this signal that Bush's free ride is over? Let's hope that what one beltway reporter said of Broder still holds true: "There are those the rest of us seek out for guidance...This is particularly true in political journalism where one person stands out--David Broder."

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Boondocks Fantasy

Everyday brings news of the collateral damage inflicted on our democracy and economy by this Administration's war without end. We're no longer on the threshold of building a permanent war economy, which will distort America's priorities at home and abroad--we've crossed the rubicon.

And this week we learn that the US military--with a budget larger than the next fifteen nations combined--may not have enough troops to meet the US's expanding global commitments. Shouldn't that soldier from the Third Infantry, who called for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's resignation, be honored instead of silenced?

If you fantasize, as I do, about what a sane and decent government, with humane priorities, could do for its citizens, check out a recent episode of Aaron McGruder's Boondocks strip:

Huey listens intently to a TV announcer:

"And in other news, President Bush announced sweeping changes in his administration's domestic policy today. Starting with quadrupling the amount of money spent on education and teacher pay raises...The additional money will come from a massive slashing of the defense budget combined with a complete elimination of corporate welfare programs. Following the changes to education, the President said he would break up media monopolies, guarantee health care to all citizens, and take critical steps to rescue the environment. 'These tasks are critically important to our future as Americans," said President Bush. "And I promise to get started immediately....." As Huey walks away from the TV in shock, Bush continues, "...Just as soon as the war on terror is brought to a triumphant conclusion.""Sigh," groans Huey.

If you're a Boondocks fan, like I am, watch for McGruder's forthcoming book, "The Right to be Hostile," with an introduction by Michael Moore.

The Other Jessica Lynch Story

Despite a boost from the killing of Saddam's two sons, George W looks increasingly vulnerable. As US deaths in Iraq mount, no weapons of mass destruction are found, the costs of unilateral occupation skyrocket, the stonewalling on the Africa uranium issue continues, and the June unemployment rate jumps to a nine-year high, Bush appears to be at an all-time low. Look at the latest Zogby poll, which shows Bush's approval at only 53 percent.

And if you want to know just how vulnerable Bush is, leave the beltway, turn off the talking heads, and listen to what people in Jessica Lynch's hometown had to say on the eve of Lynch's grand homecoming, in a segment on the Newshour with Brian Williams.

Helen Burns, restaurant manager in Palestine, West Virginia: "It's sad. I mean it's just almost sickening to--to think that our--our people is getting killed over there for nothing, as far as I'm concerned."

Thorn Roberts, a businessman: "Where is the light at the end of the tunnel in this situation? Remember, LBJ's remark about the light at the end of the tunnel in Vietnam. I sort of see the same about this."

Eva Clegg, retired state employee: "Now that they're coming out with things that they didn't have those nuclear weapons and all that, you just wonder if it's worth all that our boys are going through."

Emzy Ashby, businessman: "They keep hollering it's over with, but it will never be over with."

The Administration (and much of the media) sold a story spun to embellish Jessica Lynch's heroism. Selling postwar reality is proving to be a lot tougher. Listen to Lynch's neighbors.

Back to the UN?

Next time you hear the Bush Administration boast about the multinational support for its occupation of Iraq, remember the story of the Hungarian truck company. It turns out that the Hungarians, who offered to send a truck company to Iraq, have no trucks, or other equipment commonly associated with a military unit of this type. "They contribute 133 drivers, but no trucks, or mechanics, or anything else," a Defense Department official said. "Either somebody else is going to donate trucks, or they're going to be driving ours."

Maybe Hungary played a small role in the Bush Administration's recent change of course. What with the costs of the occupation running $1 billion a week, demoralized US soldiers facing what the military's new commander in Iraq calls a "classical guerrilla-type" war, and dozens of nations refusing to contribute troops or money without a UN mandate, Administration officials acknowledge they are rethinking their disastrous strategy.

On Saturday, it was reported that after spurning the United Nations in the run-up to war, the Administration may seek a UN resolution that could placate countries like India, Germany--even the reviled France. "The Administration has to give up its arrogant attitude toward foreign policy--it's my way or the highway--and bring in the international community," Senator Edward Kennedy said in a televised interview last week.

A shift away from unilateral US control has broad potential support. In a late June Knowledge Network Poll, 64 percent of Americans wanted the UN to take a leadership role in Iraq, up from 50 percent in April. And in a Washington Post-ABC News poll taken in mid-July, 52 percent considered the level of US casualties "unacceptable." (Several more US soldiers have been killed since.)

Having to return to the United Nations would be a humiliating defeat for the neocon extremists who were determined to wage war without international support. As Joseph Nye, Jr., Dean of the Kennedy School at Harvard, told the New York Times, "for some of them--in particular those who celebrated that we didn't use the UN--it will be painful." We can only hope.

Smart Letters/Mad George's Revisionism

Have you noticed that many days, in newspapers nationwide, the letters to the editor are more enlightening and provocative than the op-eds or editorials they're sandwiched between? Take Saturday's Washington Post, for example. The smartest item on the editorial page was a letter, titled "The President's 'Revisionism," from two historians, Linda Gordon and Linda Kerber.

"Last week," they wrote, "when his administration was criticized for justifying the Iraq invasion with forged evidence, President Bush accused his critics of trying to 'rewrite history'. In addition, his then-press secretary, Ari Fleischer, sneered at 'revisionist historians.'

As historians, we are troubled by these remarks. It is central to the work of historians to search for accuracy and to revise conclusions that prove to be unsupported by evidence. Revision, based on fresh evidence, is a good thing. The argument about the use of misleading claims in the State of Union address is not about revising history; it is about whether public statements were founded on honestly presented evidence."

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Not-So-Curious George's Revisionism

It's Bush who should be exposed for "rewriting history" based on unsupported evidence--and there's videotape to prove it. At a meeting in the Oval Office with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on July 14th, Bush defended the decision to go to war with the astonishing explanation that "we gave [Hussein] a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in. And therefore, after a reasonable request, we decided to remove him from power..."

Some might call Bush's account revisionist, or even perhaps delusional, history. We know he's not a curious George, and that he has a tenuous relationship to the truth, but didn't someone on his staff brief him about the more than 400 inspections conducted by the UN inspectors, covering more than 300 sites. Doesn't he remember Hans Blix--the guy his Administration tried to discredit with personal dirt? (They couldn't find anything on squeaky clean Blix.) What about the president's 48-hour ultimatum to Iraq, issued on March 17th, when he specifically demanded that the inspectors leave that country? Even Condy Rice would have a hard time explaining how Bush's statement about the inspectors is "technically accurate."

This kind of revisionism from the country's Chief Executive should raise the gravest of doubts. "It is impossible to believe that Bush has forgotten the inspectors so quickly, or that he mis-spoke on an issue of such historic importance," says Bob Fertik, co-founder of Democrats.com. "The only conclusion we can draw is that Bush has lost touch with reality--in other words, he has gone mad." (Democrats.com has launched a campaign, with a website (MadGeorge.us), to have the president declared insane and expelled from office under the 25th amendment.)

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Noir Wisdom

A British arms expert, at the center of the dispute on the use (or misuse) of Iraq data on WMDs, is mysteriously found dead near his home in Oxfordshire, England. These are dog days made for John Le Carre, Tom Clancy or film noir.

For solace, I reach for my copy of "The Little Black and White Book of Film Noir". Published by Arsenal Pulp Press, this palm-sized paperback is a quick and dirty guide to life, love and politics.

Here are a few--of the many--lines that seem made-to-order for these "noir" days:

"My, my. Such a lot of guns around town and so few brains."Humphrey Bogart, The Big Sleep.

"We ain't safe with no crackpot giving orders."Steve Cochran, White Heat.

"You don't seem very sorry." "I am sorry. Sorry that I was caught."Judith Anderson and Barbara Stanwyck. The Strange Love of Martha Ivers.

"The world, my friends, as it is now constituted, stinks!"Jack Carson, Blues in the Night.

The Coalition of the Rational

Here's a modest proposal. Let's start a Coalition of the Rational to take back our country from this radical rightwing Administration. After all, these are times when true conservatives are as concerned as liberal Democrats about the damage being done to our democracy and international credibility as a result of manipulated intelligence, preemptive war policy and arrogant unilateralism.

The coalition could bring together a broad, transpartisan group of concerned citizens--from Goldwater-style conservatives, Rockefeller Republicans and former State Department and intelligence officials, to progressive Democrats and religious, labor and student leaders--to mobilize Americans in informed opposition to the Bush Administration's undermining of US security in our name.

Here are some nominations for charter members of the Coalition of the Rational:

*The dozens of active intelligence officials who are coming forward--mostly through leaks in the press--to describe how Administration officials pressured them to exaggerate the Iraqi threat and deceive the country.

*Veteran Intelligence Professionals For Sanity, a national organization of retired CIA, military and NSA intelligence officers who called into question the Administration's rationale for war and is now up in arms over the Bush Team's manipulation of intelligence. Check out the group's statement released last May, which noted in part: "In intelligence, there is one unpardonable sin--cooking intelligence to the recipe of high policy. There is ample indication that this has been done with respect to Iraq....[N]ever before has such warping been used in such a systematic way to mislead our elected representatives into voting to authorize launching a war." The group's recent statement powerfully indicts the vice president and "strongly recommends Dick Cheney's immediate resignation" for his role in deceiving the public, the media and other policy-makers regarding the true threat Iraq actually posed to the United States.

*Rand Beers, a National Security Council adviser to five administrations, including those of Reagan and Bush 41, who recently resigned as Bush's special counterrorism assistant. As he stepped down, Beers blasted the Administration's handling of the war on terror as "making us less secure, not more secure."

*Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Adviser to President Carter, who cautions that "our single-minded and...demagogic fixation with Iraq is undermining the credibility as well as the legitimacy of US leadership."

*Joseph Wilson, the highest-ranking American diplomat in Baghdad immediately before the Gulf War, who argues that the "underlying objective of this war [Iraq] is the imposition of a Pax Americana on the region," and that "the projection of influence and power through the use of force will breed resistance in the Arab world that will sorely test our political will and stamina."

*James W. Ziglar, Sr., Bush's former Immigration commissioner and a self-described "conservative in the Barry Goldwater mold," recently warned that the Administration's increasingly aggressive antiterrorism tactics may be violating citizens' basic constitutional rights.

*Greg Thielmann, the former head of the State Department's Office of Strategic Proliferation and Military Affairs, and a career foreign service officer who served under three Republican and two Democratic Presidents, recently went public with his anger and disgust at the Bush Administration for completely misrepresenting Iraq as an imminent threat to US security by knowingly distorting intelligence information. "This Administration has had a faith-based intelligence attitude," Thielmann has said. "We know the answers--give us the intelligence to support those answers."

*John Brady Kiesling, a career diplomat for nearly twenty years, who resigned last February in protest against the Administration's drive to war. In his resignation letter, he warned that "Our fervent pursuit of war with Iraq is driving us to squander the international legitimacy that has been America's most potent weapon of both offense and defense since the days of Woodrow Wilson." When asked if his views were widely shared among his diplomatic colleagues, Kiesling replied: "Not one of my colleagues is comfortable with our policy." Several other career foreign service officials resigned in the weeks after Kiesling stepped down.

*George Kennan, the chief architect of the containment and deterrence policies that shaped American foreign policy for more than fifty years, attacked the Administration's national security doctrine as "a great mistake in principle." He also denounced dishonest efforts by the White House to link Al-Qaeda terrorists with Saddam Hussein.

*Ray McGovern, who worked for the CIA at high levels for twenty-seven years, and regularly briefed Bush's father in the 1980s, and who recently quit his post in protest at the Bush Administration's misuse of intelligence briefings.

*Arthur Schlesinger, presidential special assistant and author, who argues that "the Bush Doctrine converts us into the world's judge, jury and executioner--a self-appointed status that, however benign our motives, is bound to corrupt our leadership," and who warns that because of Bush, the "global wave of sympathy that engulfed the United States after 9/11 has given way to a global wave of hatred of American arrogance and militarism."

*Ted Sorensen, former chief speechwriter to a muscular Democrat--President John Kennedy--who laments that the "long uneasiness with bloodletting and battle that followed Vietnam has been replaced by a new infatuation for war, a preference for invasion over persuasion."

And there are scores of others inside and outside the Administration; in Establishment circles; in military and business organizations, who are alarmed by the White House's radical extremism. At off-the-record meetings at the Council on Foreign Relations, for example, prominent figures regularly express shock (and no awe) at how this Administration is undermining America's security--and reputation in the world.

The Coalition of the Rational could launch nationwide public hearings and town hall meetings to expose the dangers posed by the Bush Administration. Members could propose sane, alternative foreign and security policies. Its key members could speak out on TV, radio and on op-ed pages, and its institutions could join forces with internet-based networks such as MoveOn and TrueMajority to create a broad-based coalition sufficiently powerful to take back this country from the extremists now running our government.

Presidential Lies

In my debate with Dick Armey on Hardball last Thursday night, the former House majority leader and current MSNBC consultant was obsessed with presidential lies and impeachment--that is, President Bill Clinton's lies and impeachment. But, as I pointed out, Clinton may have lied in office but no one died--and Congress impeached him.

Meanwhile, Bush and his Administration have lied, many have died and the majority of Congress treats it as business-as-usual. I wonder if the families of the 212 soldiers killed thus far in Iraq are as offended by Armey's statements as I am. I know that scores of Nation readers and cable viewers are--many e-mailed me after watching the segment, expressing disgust with Armey's refusal to hold Bush accountable for deceiving the public.

...And Rumsfeld's Flailing

Meanwhile, on yesterday's Meet the Press, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was lacking his usual macho bluster. As Tim Russert posed pointed questions about intelligence lapses and the failure of postwar planning, Rumsfeld flailed about:

**Essentially agreeing with antiwar Senator Robert Byrd's assessment of the situation in Iraq as "an open-ended shooting gallery..."

**Declaring that the United Nations---an organization he reviled in the runup to war-was important for Iraq's successful postwar reconstruction.

**And embodying what former highranking intelligence official Gregory Thielmann describes as a "faith-based intelligence attitude." When Russert asked if US credibility would be undermined if no Iraqi WMDs were found, Rumsfeld sought refuge in a faith-based reply: "I believe we will find them." This hedge is a far cry from his assertion last March that, "We know where they are."

Stonewalling Time

Have you heard about the Restore Freedom of Information Act? Support it--If you care about our democracy. Since October 2001, when Attorney General John Ashcroft reversed longstanding Freedom of Information Act policies, this poster child of good government legislation, which provided citizens with broad access to FBI records which previously had been severely limited, has been under severe assault.

So comprehensive is the Bush Administration's systematic attack that the presidents of twenty major journalists' organizations declared in a joint statement that Ashcroft's "restrictions pose dangers to American democracy and prevent American citizens from obtaining the information they need."

The Restore FOIA Act, recently introduced by Senators Leahy, Levin, Jeffords, Lieberman and Byrd, would restore protection for so-called federal whistleblowers, allow state and local "sunshine" disclosure laws to use information obtained from government agencies, and allow civil litigation against companies to use this information. But times are such that, as the ombudsman for the Freedom Forum says, "many in Congress are reluctant to challenge the administration" on security.

But, as Senator Patrick Leahy, one of the Act's sponsors, eloquently said: "We do not respect the spirit of our democracy when we cloak in secrecy the workings of our government from the public we are elected to serve."

Government watchdog groups warn that if the proposed changes to the Homeland Security Act are implemented, businesses could shield almost any data from public scrutiny, government regulations and civil litigation by claiming "critical infrastructure information" protection. As a spokesperson for Public Citizen put it, "these rules would allow corporations to dump information into a black hole of secrecy."

But there's some good news too: Last week, accountability trumped secrecy when a federal appeals court rejected Vice-President Dick Cheney's bid to keep secret all the workings of his energy task force. (The two to one ruling by a panel of judges from the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, said that sufficient safeguards were already in place to prevent the disclosure of genuinely privileged information.) And there was another victory for openness when Thomas Kean, 9/11 Commission head and former Republican governor of New Jersey, publicly criticized the Administration for stonewalling a politically damaging inquiry.

What's clear is that whether it's stonewalling the 9/11 Commission, the Courts or the American public, this Administration is contemptuous of the public's right to know, which unavoidably undermines a democratic society. Listen to Senator Robert Byrd who's seen it all in his forty-five years in office: "If the government is allowed to operate in secrecy without scrutiny, then the people's liberties easily can be lost."

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The Left on the Move?

Yesterday's Washington Post caught up with what we've known for months. To read more, check out the Post's front-page story arguing that "the left is once again a driving force" in the Democratic Party.

The Terminator President

What's it come to when Arnold Schwarzenegger plays the role of commander-in-chief and the US President acts like the Terminator? On his fourth of July USO tour of Baghdad, Schwarzengger braved fierce heat to "pump up" and praise US service people for their efforts in Iraq. Meanwhile, and on the same day that one Marine was killed and three were injured while clearing mines in Iraq, Bush taunted insurgent Iraqis Terminator-style from the comfort of his air-conditioned offices.

"Bring 'em on," he said, asserting that US forces are "plenty tough" to deal with the now daily deadly attacks being waged guerilla-style against US occupation forces throughout Iraq. Some newspapers called Bush's challenge "colorful." Senator Frank Lautenberg, a decorated World War II army vet, called his remarks "tantamount to inciting and inviting more attacks against US forces."

Bush's macho rhetoric is only the latest example of the arrogant and irresponsible attitude of a President who should show more respect for the brave men and women he has asked to die for a lie. And all Americans--whether supporters or opponents of the war--should be concerned that Bush's immature rhetoric is inflaming an already dangerous situation for US forces on the ground. What's next from the Terminator President? Hasta la Vista, Saddam.

America: Global Leader or Global Cop?

Earlier this month, The Nation and The Economist held a debate in New York City. Billed as "America's Role in the World: Protector or Predator," it was a wide-ranging discussion about US foreign policy, the Bush Administration, American intentions and neo-liberalism.

WNYC's Brian Lehrer was an artful moderator and Economist editor Bill Emmott a civil and informed adversary. While he and I disagreed on many issues, we did agree on the importance of independent media in this era of consolidation. CSPAN, which broadcast the debate on June 21, plans subsequent airings and is selling copies of the videotape on its website. (You can also listen and watch on your computer.) Below is an adapted version of my opening remarks:

These are perilous times, ones that raise large and fateful questions: What kind of country does the US want to be in the 21st century? Empire or Democracy? Global Leader or Global Cop? I believe that in pursuit of global dominance, the Bush Administration is endangering the world order abroad and the republic at home.

Consider that this Administration is as disrespectful of the US Constitution as it is of the UN charter. Its policies have widened the rift between the US and the rest of the globe, further inflamed the Muslim world and weakened the international coalitions so crucial to the fight against terrorism. In short, this Administration is making the US and the world a more dangerous place.

Yet, in history and politics there are always alternatives. The question is how America's unparalleled power might be used, how it might engage the world so as to become a source of hope, not fear. What needs to be stated clearly is that there is no mandate in the US for the extremist policies of this Administration. Our Foreign policy has been hijacked by a small neocon cabal, whose models appear to be Hobbes and John Wayne (in his later period, after The Searchers), which has been busily working to remake the world in its image for the last decade.

Recent polls show the majority of Americans want an America that abides by international law, that is a constructive partner in international institutions and that can work cooperatively to solve global problems. And, as we know from the unprecedented worldwide demonstrations against the war--these views are shared by a global majority--what has become known as the world's "other superpower."

So, in the short term, what makes the American imperial project less sustainable is the fact that the American public has little appetite for nation building or empire building abroad (particularly at a time when the GOP is gutting nation building at home); it is contrary to America's traditional principles.

So, maybe not tomorrow or next month, but someday not too far off we may well see an opening for a more intelligent, constructive use of American power--one that builds on America's traditions of acting in a farsighted and collective manner--as exemplified by the founding of the UN and the International Declaration of Human Rights. A leadership that wins respect at home and abroad through its commitment to global partnerships and an understanding that the key to world order, peace and prosperity is not American unilateral dominance but the strengthening of international governance and rule of law.

Think about a world in which US power would be used to:

** lead a global campaign to meet the UN's Millennium Goal of halving world poverty, cutting child mortality by two-thirds and guaranteeing every child primary education by 2015.

**strengthen multilateral and verifiable arms control treaties that curb WMDs, while at same time promoting nuclear disarmament and international demilitarization.

**End dependence on foreign oil and invest in the development of alternative energy sources.

**Ratify the scores of treaties the US has subverted these last two years--from Kyoto to the International Criminal Court to the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

These are just a few of the projects of a wise and enlightened power, a constructive member of the international community. Now, more than ever, US foreign policy should draw inspiration from the deep but often suppressed democratic and internationalist foundations of this nation. Borrowing a phrase from the Declaration of Independence, this Administration needs to show a decent respect for the "opinions of mankind."

Double-Standards for Dissidents

President Bush's support for Iranian student protesters reminds me of something a Russian friend said to me many years ago, during the Soviet era: "You Americans are an odd people. You love our dissidents, but you don't like your own dissidents. You should support your local dissidents, too."

Don't get me wrong. I think Americans should support Iran's student movement--while understanding that fundamental reform must come about peacefully, indigenously and without US interference. But I'd like to see a little respect for our own dissidents too.

On February 15th, when more than two million Americans protested the Administration's rush to war in Iraq, Bush contemptuously dismissed them as a "focus group." White House spokesman Ari Fleischer added that "Often the message of the protesters is contradicted by history." Millions of Americans who have opposed corporate globalization have been treated with even more derision.

The other day Bush said, "I would urge the Iranian administration to treat [the protesters] with the utmost of respect." Okay, but how about treating your own dissidents with some respect, Mr. President?

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