Every day brings more evidence that this http://www.thenation.com/directory/view.mhtml?t=000706 "> Administration and its rightwing cronies want to unmake everything good about this country, from Head Start to habeas corpus.
Their aim, as our national affairs correspondent William Greider has argued, seems to be to destroy New Deal programs like Social Security and Medicare, unravel our already frayed social safety net and roll back the hard-earned rights and liberties of the 20th century.
Don't believe me? These goals are clearly laid out in the 2002 Republican Party platform of George W's home state of Texas, which calls for abolishing the income tax, wiping out the social security system, repealing the minimum wage, rescinding US membership in the United Nations, and cancelling the War Powers Act. (Click here for full text of this document.)
Remember that this is the platform of the party which was instrumental in electing Bush to the Governorship of Texas. And don't let people tell you it's only a piece of paper. Texas GOP leaders take this document seriously. The Party's Executive Committee has been directed "to strongly consider candidates' support of the platform" when granting financial or other support. And all candidates "for a public or party office" must "read and initial each page of the platform" and sign a statement affirming he/she has read the entire platform."
Particularly troubling, as Ralph Nader pointed out in a letter to Bush on August 2, is the fact that key elements of the document contradict existing federal law, which the President of the United States is sworn to uphold. The media has been virtually silent on this potential political conflict of interest. But don't American citizens have a right to know whether Bush endorses his own state party's extremist stands?
I'm no Bob Novak.
The conservative columnist, it seems, receives different treatment from the CIA than yours truly. After senior administration officials told him in July that former ambassador Joseph Wilson's wife was a CIA officer working in the field of counterproliferation--this was the leak that launched the current scandal--he called the CIA for confirmation. According to Novak, a CIA official was "designated to talk" to him. This official, in Novak's telling, denied that Valerie Wilson (nee Plame) had "inspired" Joseph Wilson's selection for a mission to Niger to check out allegations that Iraq had been uranium-shopping there. But this CIA person informed Novak that Valerie Wilson had been asked to solicit her husband's help. The "designated" CIA official, Novak reports, asked that Novak not use Wilson/Plame's name, saying she probably would not be given another overseas assignment but that exposure could cause "difficulties" if she traveled abroad. Novak claims the official never stated that Wilson's wife or anyone else would be endangered. So he named her in a July 14 column and damaged her career and aided what might have been a White House attempt to punish or discredit Joseph Wilson--an effort that possibly undermined national security and possibly violated federal law.
Compare this to my experience with the CIA. After I learned from reliable sources the identity of a current National Security Council staffer who once worked with Valerie Wilson at the CIA in weapons counterproliferation, I wondered whether I should make the name of this person public, and I contacted the CIA.
This NSC staffer might--I emphasize, might--play a role in the Wilson leak scandal. I know of no reason to suspect he or she is one of the leakers. (A recent Newsweek story referred to this NSCer, but it did not name the staffer.) But perhaps this individual--whom I was told is a CIA officer assigned to the NSC--mentioned Valerie Wilson's CIA connection to one or more White House colleagues during the period in which Joseph Wilson was causing the White House discomfort. (Wilson primarily did that by publicly disclosing that the Niger allegation was probably not true and by charging that the White House had reason to be suspicious of the claim.) Consequently, investigators probing the Wilson leak ought to ask this NSC officer--if they have not already done so--whether he or she talked about Valerie Wilson with anyone in the White House? If the Justice Department investigators can figure out how individuals in the White House came to know about Wilson's wife (if they did), then the gumshoes might be able to find a trail leading to the leakers.
I tried reaching this individual and could not get past the NSC receptionist, who referred me to NSC press spokesman Sean McCormack. He returned my call once, missed me, and then did not return subsequent calls.
I thought it would certainly be newsworthy to point out a White House officer who particularly deserved to be questioned by the Justice Department investigators. But I worried: would doing so out another CIA officer who has engaged in counterproliferation work? Over the years, I've generally been a critic of the CIA, but I do want the agency to be successful in this mission. And I do not aim to needlessly jeopardize anyone's career. In my 1994 book on the CIA--Blond Ghost: Ted Shackley and the CIA's Crusades--I named many a CIA person, but most were retired and had no objection to being identified. In one instance, a former CIA man who lived in a developing nation maintained that if he were fingered as a former CIA undercover officer his family might be targeted. I kept his name out of the book.
So should I ID this CIA person working at the White House? As Novak did, I called the CIA. I spoke to Mark Mansfield, a longtime CIA spokesperson. I informed him that I had learned about this CIA officer and mentioned the individual's name. I asked if the CIA would confirm the person's employment at the CIA and whether the agency wanted to make a case for not revealing his or her name. He said he would get back to me--and nothing more. Several hours later, he called. He had no "designated" official for me to speak with. "We generally don't comment upon employment," he said. But did he not want to argue against naming this person. Any guidance, off the record? I asked. No, he said. "As a general point," Mansfield added, "we always prefer that CIA employees--whether they are undercover or overt--not be identified publicly because it can limit opportunities to travel overseas and can have unintended consequences."
That was hardly a forceful argument. No pleading. No melodramatic warnings that I would be endangering one person's career and ruining operations around the world. In a way, this echoed the weak pushback Novak claims he received when he contacted the CIA about Valerie Wilson. Still, Novak reports, the CIA did talk to him about Valerie Wilson's position at the CIA and her (apparently small) role in the Niger business. That was more help than I received. I suppose the CIA officials who discussed my request might have figured that if they had asked me not to identify this NSC officer they would be confirming his CIA employment. So they left me in the cold--with my conscience.
It was, though, not a tough call. I have decried the Wilson leak and lambasted the White House for engineering it, doing nothing about it, or trying to exploit it (or all of the above). So I'm not going to drop a dime on this NSC staffer--not yet. Let's see how the investigation goes--to the extent the public can discern what is happening. I am assuming that the feds are aware of this person. If not, they should contact me. I'm dying to tell somebody.
JUST RELEASED AND A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER: David Corn's new book, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). For more information and a sample, check out the book's official website: www.bushlies.com.
While tales of Arnold's physical harassment of women should keep him out of the Governor's seat, George Bush's assaults against women nationwide--and around the world--should ensure that he is ousted from the White House in 2004.
Since he arrived in DC, he has been waging a not-so-quiet war against women and families. Several of his most extreme actions--for example, the global gag rule--have received some media scrutiny. But how many people know about these other assaults?
With all due credit to Emily's List, here's a top-ten list of Bush Assaults on Women and Families. (If you have your own list, click here to share it with me. I'll keep a running tally of Bush assaults as we head into 2004.)
10. Bush chose Nancy Pfotenhauer, president and CEO of the conservative Independent Women's Forum, to serve on the National Advisory Committee on Violence Against Women. (The IWF is a rightwing group actively opposed to the Violence Against Women Act.)
9. Bush appointed Diana Furchgott-Roth as director of the Federal Housing Finance Board. Furchgott-Roth, a former fellow at the far-right American Enterprise Institute, co-authored a book denying the existence of a wage gap and glass ceiling, and arguing that women are no longer affected by discrimination in the workplace.
8. The Republican-backed Personal Responsibility, Work and Family Promotion Act of 2003 increased from thirty to forty the number of hours that welfare recipients are required to work--while also providing $200 million annually to promote marriage and $50 million to promote abstinence.
7. Bush tried to eliminate contraceptive coverage from federal employees' health plans. (Democrats fought back and won.)
6. Bush in intent on nominating judges who are staunch opponents of abortion rights. His most recent nominee to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, Claude A. Allen, has gone so far as to claim that abortion is causing genocide of the black population. Allen has also been a vocal supporter of abstinence-only education programs and the Bush Administration's decision to remove information about condoms and teen pregnancy prevention from the Center for Disease Control's website.
5. Bush appointed Wade Horn as assistant secretary for family support in the US Health and Human Services Department. As President of the National Fatherhood Institute, Horn said that low-income kids whose parents aren't married should be last in line for Head Start and other benefits.
4. Bush policy prohibits military women stationed overseas from receiving safe medical abortions at military hospitals, even if they pay for the procedure with personal funds.
3. Bush slammed the door shut on the White House Office for Women's Initiatives and Outreach, which worked with women's advocacy groups on public policy and political issues. His 2004 budget eliminated funding for the Women's Educational Equity Act to promote equity for girls and women in education.
2. Bush nominated Dr. David Hager to chair the Food and Drug Administration's Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee. (Hager has written about Christ's ability to heal women's illnesses and reportedly refused to prescribe contraceptives to unmarried women.) The good news? Hager did not become chair. The bad news? He became a member of the committee.
1. Under the pretense of helping working families, particularly working mothers, the Bush Administration proposed the so-called Family Time Flexibility Act to abolish federally mandated overtime pay for workers, allowing employers to offer comp time instead. The Democrats prevented this bill from coming to the floor but there's talk that Republican legislators may try to bring it back in different form.
Don't let George W. hide behind his image as the protector of a country that is, in fact, becoming increasingly less secure--not to mention less fair, less compassionate and less just--under his shrinking stewardship.
General Wesley Clark's candidacy is still a work in progress. In his debut debate on September 25th, the Man from NATO said he needed more time to hammer out policies on healthcare, trade and social security. But what if he had been asked about his favorite song? (When journalist Farai Chideya posed that seemingly trivial question in the previous debate, the replies turned out to be far more interesting than expected.)
Would Clark have had a clear and resolute answer? Maybe. After all, he quotes Bob Dylan's Blowin' In the Wind toward the end of his memoir, Waging Modern War, and writes affectionately about the protest music (Peter, Paul and Mary, Trini Lopez and Dylan) that he used to love to listen to as a young man. Of course, Clark could play it safe and select a traditional military fave: Garryowen (the song of the seventh cavalry and the most famous fighting song in the US Army), or the Theme from Superman or Off We Go Into The Wild Blue Wonder.
But, it's much better to answer from the heart than to have your expert advisers focus group the question to death before coming up with the politically correct answer. So I hope the general will stick with Dylan, although he may want to opt for Don't Think Twice, It's All Right over Desolation Row, Sitting On A Barbed Wire Fence or You Ain't Goin' Nowhere.
According to a recent report by the EPA's own inspector general, the Bush Administration instructed the agency to give the public misleading information in the days following the September 11 attack, telling New Yorkers the air was safe to breathe when reliable information on air quality was unavailable. The agency was even ordered to remove helpful tips from its press releases, such as ways to clean indoor areas and information on the effects of the contaminants.
In an interview with New York Newsday's terrific science reporter Laurie Garret from last August, Dr. Stephen Levin, director of the World Trade Center Worker and Volunteer Medical Screening Program at Mount Sinai Medical Center, called the report "shocking." "It's an outrageous interference in the role of the public-health agencies that were established to protect the people," Levin said of the Bush Administration's alleged influence over the EPA.
This tendency to distort the truth has been shown to be a hallmark of this Administration, whether the issue is clean air, global warming, tax cuts, trade policy or weapons of mass destruction. (See David Corn's new book The Lies of George Bush for an exhaustive survey of the Bush Team's mendacity.)
Fortunately, the lies seem to sticking more and more to an Administration that has been called "the worst government the US has ever had in its more than 200 years of history," by Nobel Prize-winning economist George Akerlof, another longtime member of the mainstream establishment horrified by the Bush Administration's extremism and deceit. (Click here to read Katrina vanden Heuvel's account of Akerlof's dissent from her weblog Editor's Cut.)
A host of New York Democrats are trying to call the White House to account for its air-quality cover-up. Rep. Jerry Nadler, backed by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, has recently demanded a Congressional investigation into the EPA's handing of the issue, noting that New York City residents and workers continue to breathe in World Trade Center contaminants because of the EPA's false reassurances about air quality.
Please support Nadler's call for a bipartisan probe into who ordered the EPA to lie to New Yorkers after September 11. If you need to get your blood boiling first, click here to read the EPA Inspector General's full report. Then send a letter to your elected reps. It'll take about sixty seconds with The Nation's new activist tool-kit. And it really may help put this issue on the national agenda.
The spin is not holding. Facing two controversies--the Wilson leak (click here if you have somehow managed to miss this story) and the still-MIA WMDs--the White House has been tossing out explanations and rhetoric that cannot withstand scrutiny.
Let's start with the Wilson leak. In the issue coming out October 6, Newsweek will be reporting that after Bob Novak published a July 14 column containing the leak attributed to "senior adminsitration officials" that identified former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, as an undercover CIA operative, White House officials were touting the Novak story, according to NBC News reporter Andrea Mitchell. Apparently, these officials were encouraging reporters to recycle or pursue the story about Wilson's wife. The newsmagazine also notes that, according to a source close to Wilson, shortly after the leak occurred Bush's senior aide Karl Rove told Hardball host Chris Matthews that Wilson's wife was "fair game." Matthews told Newsweek that he would not discuss off-the-record conversations. (He told me the same weeks ago when I made a similar inquiry about this chat with Rove.) An anonymous source described as familiar with the exchange--presumably Rove or someone designated to speak for him--maintained that Rove had only said to Matthews it was reasonable to discuss whether Wilson's wife had been involved in his mission to Niger. (In February 2002, Wilson had been asked by the CIA to visit Niger to check out allegations Iraq had been shopping for uranium there; he did so and reported back that the charge was probably untrue. In July, he publicly challenged the White House's use of this claim and earned the administration's wrath.)
These disclosures do not reveal who were the original leakers. (The Justice Department, at the CIA's request, started out investigating the White House; it has widened its probe to include the State Department and the Defense Department.) But these new details are significant and undercut the White House line on the leak. At a White House press briefing, Scott McClellan, Bush's press secretary, repeatedly said that Bush and his White House took no action after the Novak column was published on July 14 because the leak was attributed only to anonymous sources. "Are we supposed to chase down every anonymous report in the newspaper?" McClellan remarked.
He was arguing that a serious leak attributed to anonymous sources was still not serious enough to cause the president to ask, what the hell happened? And he made it seem as if the White House just ignored the matter. Not so. Mitchell's remark and even the Rove-friendly account of the Rove-Matthews conversation are evidence the White House tried to further the Plame story--that is, to exploit the leak for political gain. Rather than respond by trying to determine the source of a leak that possibly violated federal law and perhaps undermined national security ( The Washington Post reported that the leak also blew the cover of a CIA front company, "potentially expanding the damage caused by the original disclosure"), White House officials sought to take advantage of it. Spin that, McClellan.
Newsweek is also disclosing that a National Security Council staffer previously worked with Valerie Wilson (nee Plame) and was aware of her position at the CIA because he or she had worked closely with Wilson's wife at the Agency's counterproliferation division. McClellan has indicated in his press briefings that the White House did not--and has not--acted to ascertain the source of the leak. But shouldn't Bush or chief of staff Andrew Card (if Card is not one of the leakers) have asked this person whether he or she mentioned Valerie Wilson's occupation to anyone in the White House? (I believe I know the name of this person but since he or she may be working under cover I am not at this point going to publish it.)
McClellan has had a tough time providing straight answers. At the October 1 press briefing, he was asked what Bush did after the leak first appeared. He replied by saying that "some news reports" have noted that Valerie Wilson's CIA connection "may have been well-known within the DC community." That hardly seems so. Her neighbors did not know, and Wilson maintains their close friends did not know. No reporter that I have talked to--and I've spoken to many covering this story--had heard that.
During that briefing, reporters wondered if Bush approved of the Republican campaign to depict Wilson as a partisan zealot lacking credibility. McClellan sidestepped: "The President is focused on getting to the bottom of this." The next day, he was once more asked whether it was appropriate for Republicans to be attacking Wilson. "I answered that question yesterday," he said. One problem: he hadn't. He also maintained that Bush "has been the one speaking out front on this." Not quite. For over two months, Bush had said nothing about the leak. And on this day, Bush met with reporters for African news organizations and joked about the anti-Wilson leak. When asked what he thought about the detention in Kenya of three journalists who had refused to reveal sources, he said, "I'm against leaks." This prompted laughter, and Bush went on: "I would suggest all governments get to the bottom of every leak of classified information." Addressing the reporter who had asked the question, Bush echoed the phrase that McClellan had frequently used in his press briefings and quipped, "By the way, if you know anything, Martin, would you please bring it forward and help solve the problem?"
Perhaps Bush needed a good chuckle after reading--or being briefed on--the testimony that chief weapons hunter David Kay was presenting that day to Congress. In an interim report, Kay had noted that his Iraq Survey Group had found evidence of "WMD-related program activities," but no stocks of unconventional weapons. Kay also had an interesting observation about the prewar intelligence on Iraq's WMDs: "Our understanding of the status of Iraq's WMD program was always bounded by large uncertainties and had to be heavily caveated."
Wait a minute. That was not what Bush and his compadres had said prior to the war. Flash back to Bush's get-out-of-town speech on March 17, two days before he launched the war. He maintained, "Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal" weapons of mass destruction. Yet Kay was saying there had been "large uncertainties" in the intelligence. How does that square with Bush's no-doubt claim? It doesn't.
Kay's testimony is more proof that Bush misrepresented the intelligence. Regular readers of this column will know that Kay's remark were preceded by similar statements from the House intelligence committee and former deputy CIA director, Richard Kerr, who has been reviewing the prewar intelligence. Both the committee (led by Representative Porter Goss, a Republican and former CIA officer) and Kerr have concluded the intelligence of Iraq's WMDs was based on circumstantial and inferential material and contained many uncertainties.
Prior to the invasion, administration officials consistently declared there was no question Iraq had these weapons. On December 5, 2002, for instance, Ari Fleischer, then the White House press secretary, said, "the president of the United States and the secretary of defense would not assert as plainly and bluntly as they have that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction if it was not true, and if they did not have a solid basis for saying it." But what had been that "solid_basis"? Intelligence "bounded by large uncertainties"?
Look at what Kay said about Iraq's nuclear weapons program:
"With regard to Iraq's nuclear program, the testimony we have obtained from Iraqi scientists and senior government officials should clear up any doubts about whether Saddam still wanted to obtain nuclear weapons. They have told [the Iraq Survey Group] that Saddam Husayn remained firmly committed to acquiring nuclear weapons. These officials assert that Saddam would have resumed nuclear weapons development at some future point….
"Despite evidence of Saddam's continued ambition to acquire nuclear weapons, to date we have not uncovered evidence that Iraq undertook significant post-1998 steps to actually build nuclear weapons or produce fissile material….
"Saddam, at least as judged by those scientists and other insiders who worked in his military-industrial programs, had not given up his aspirations and intentions to continue to acquire weapons of mass destruction."
Compare this assessment to what Bush and Dick Cheney had said before the war. In his 2003 State of the Union speech, Bush declared that Hussein was a threat because he had "an advanced nuclear weapons development program" in the 1990s. (Bush had failed to mention that the International Atomic Energy Agency had reported in 1998 that it had demolished this "advanced" program.) And Cheney on March 16 said, "we believe [Hussein] has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons." His aides later said Cheney had meant to say "nuclear weapons programs."
But, according to Kay, the evidence so far collected indicates only that Hussein maintained a desire to acquire nuclear weapons and had not developed a program to satisfy that yearning. Kay later added that it would have taken Iraq five to seven years to reconstitute its nuclear weapons program. So what was the evidence for Bush's and Cheney's assertions that the program was already revved up? By the way, Kay says his team has found "no conclusive proof" Hussein tried to acquire uranium in Niger. In fact, he reported that one cooperating Iraqi scientist revealed to the ISG that another African nation had made an unsolicited offer to sell Iraq uranium but there is no indication Iraq accepted the offer.
Kay also reported, "Our efforts to collect and exploit intelligence on Iraq's chemical weapons program have thus far yielded little reliable information on post-1991 CW stocks and CW agent production, although we continue to receive and follow leads related to such stocks." But before the war, the Bush administration had said flat-out that Iraq possessed chemical weapons. Did it neglect to pass along to Kay the information upon which it based this claim? (Actually, the Defense Intelligence Agency in September 2002 concluded there was no "reliable information" on whether Iraq had produced or stockpiled chemical weapons, but that did not stop Bush and his aides from stating otherwise.)
How did Bush respond to Kay's interim findings? He proclaimed they proved that he had been correct all along. The "interim report," Bush remarked, "said that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program spanned more than two decades. That's what [Kay] said....He's saying Saddam Hussein was a threat, a serious danger."
Reality check: Bush had said that the main reason to go to war was because Hussein possessed "massive" stockpiles of unconventional weapons and at any moment could hand them off to al Qaeda (with whom Bush claimed Hussein was "dealing"--even though the evidence on that point was and continues to be, at best, sketchy). Now Bush is asserting that Hussein was a threat that could only be countered with invasion and occupations because he had weapons research programs that indeed violated United Nations resolutions but that had not produced any weapons. That's a much different argument. Bush, Cheney, McClellan, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and others continue to deny they overstated (or misrepresented) the case for war. But the evidence is incontrovertible, and it keeps on piling up.
So all they have is spin. Bush changes the terms. McClellan, Rumsfeld, Rice insist that before the war everybody knew that Iraq had WMDs. Everybody, that is, except the folks putting together the intelligence assessments chockfull of uncertainties. When it comes to the Wilson affair, the White House ducks and covers, claiming it had no reason to react to the original anonymous-source leak, even though its officials (at the least) considered the leak solid enough to talk up to other reporters. And instead of confronting the ugly (and perhaps criminal) implications of the leak, the White House's allies in Washington lash out at Wilson, in a vicious blame-the-victim offensive, while Mister Change-the-Tone has nothing to say publicly about this. What if Wilson is a Democratic partisan? That does not excuse what was done to his wife.
Leaking and lying--these are not actions easy to explain away. Drip, drip, drip--that's the sound often associated with Washington scandals. But now it may also be the sound of the truth catching up to the propagandists and perps of the Bush White House.
JUST RELEASED AND AN AMAZON.COM BESTSELLER: David Corn's new book, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). For more information and a sample, check out the book's official website: www.bushlies.com.
The Dalai Lama recently ended a twenty-day trip to the United States that at times resembled a rock tour more than the series of scientific, spiritual and political meetings which took up much of the Tibetan leader's time in this country.
And whether he was talking to scientists at M.I.T. studying the impact of meditation on human happiness, delivering a sermon on nonviolence and compassion to tens of thousands in New York City's Central Park or conducting an all-day series of discussions about the "ethical revolution and the world crisis," with politicians, activists and media figures at Manhattan's Town Hall, the Dalai Lama drew tremendous (and mostly reverential) attention wherever he went.
The Town Hall event, held on a torrential Tuesday, was organized by Tibet House and its founder Robert Thurman and featured a four-part series of conversations on environmentalism, the media, the politics of war and the ethics of business. The invitees might be best be described as eclectic: Presidential candidates Al Sharpton, and Dennis Kucinich, Co-founder of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream Ben Cohen, environmentalists Randall Hayes, David Crow and Paul Hawken, Nobel Peace Prize nominee Helen Caldicott, hip hop mogul and entrepreneur Russell Simmons and socially responsible investor Amy Domini. I joined Democracy Now's Amy Goodman and actress Susan Sarandon on the media panel.
Sarandon kept the leader of Tibetan Buddism laughing loudly with jokes about the Compassion Diet and what a bundle the Dalai Lama could make if he played his cards right. More seriously, she addressed the fear instilled in people by this Administration and the failure of the press--though she kindly noted a few exceptions, touching my knee and looking at Amy--to investigate and expose the deceit we confront everyday.
Goodman spoke in compelling terms about different September 11 anniversaries around the world--from Chile to Guatemala--and vividly stressed the contrast between what was happening in Town Hall that morning and what was going on across town.(Bush was addressing the UN.) She also made an impassioned case for the importance of independent media through the story of the Pacifica Radio Network and the role it has played these last decades, in allowing voices of dissent to speak against the grain--for example, the great Paul Robeson, who was given a voice on Pacifica when he was shut out of the mass media of his time. (Through his interpreter, the Dalai Lama asked, what years were those?)
Through this, the Dalai Lama sat cross-legged on a striped silk armchair, wrapped cocoon-like in a saffron monk's robe listening carefully. The Dalai Lama is a very good listener. He also seemed very human, yet spiritual; political, yet apolitical; humorous, yet full of a sadness that comes from being the leader of an occupied country; but also joyful, with a mischievous laugh. And, after each set of remarks, he'd respond, sometimes briefly and directly to the point; other times at length in digressive, yet pointed messages.
He confessed that he was a fan of BBC World News ("I trust it more than CNN."); that while he is a resolute opponent of violence he felt the use of force by an elected government is preferable to its use by stateless organizations, and that he has aspirations of drawing together a Nonviolence Swat Team comprised of Nobel laureates who could be mobilized quickly to be dispatched to the world's hot spots.
He responded to Goodman's comments about the US government's brutal interventions abroad by noting how good it is that we Americans have the freedom to criticize our own government. (And he joked that even if anyone was to be arrested for this meeting, at least he'd be on a plane the next morning!)
In the short time I had to offer remarks to the Tibetan spiritual leader, I tried to make sense of the theme of media and ethics while also addressing the Dalai Lama's call for compassion and nonviolence.
Following is an abbreviated version of my remarks:
I want to be honest. I edit a weekly political magazine and these are times when our politics fill me with what you call afflictive emotion--anger, outrage about injustice and deceit. I confess that I believe intelligent anger, focused on serious problems, anger which provokes indignation and action by people, has a role to play in our world. Please forgive me. I also believe that while we live in this world, another world is possible--a more compassionate one--a world in which it would be easier for people to behave decently-and that the media has a role to play in building that world.
This morning, I come here with more questions than answers. And I hope with a humility that our government has abandoned in its engagement with the world, with its own citizens and with the media.
My central question: How do those of us in the media revitalize the civic powers that are so important to an ethical society? How does a citizen, a journalist living at a time when his or her government lies and deceives its own people search out the truth? How does a journalist feel anger at the daily outrages we witness--and still act as an effective, humane watchdog? To not only expose but also propose our vision of a society that is both plausible and visionary? To be critical-minded but not relentlessly oppositional? To say something about the democracy we are for, not just why today it is gravely imperiled? To create a media that does not make citizens passive, fearful spectators but rather informed and compassionate ones?
At The Nation, we refuse to concede that idealism is irrelevant, and like the abolitionists who founded the magazine in 1865, we believe there is no force so potent in politics as a moral issue. We take seriously the power of ideas, of conviction, of conscience, of fighting for causes lost and found. And we're not alone.
We also value our independence. And as the line between news and entertainment has forever been blurred, at a time when conformism and conglomeratization have led to the marginalization, even the suppression of rebellious, questioning, honest voices, that independence seems ever more important. And while it may not be revolution, we believe that it's a small, beginning step to come forth, as we do, with independent perspectives, constructive ideas and radical rethinking of the assumptions underlying conventional thinking and our media.
Sadly, most of our media-especially in these last few years-has lacked the courage to question authority, to raise tough questions, to perform the basic duties required of a free press in a democracy. It has been too easily intimidated by an Administration that has used fear to make its case for war, to label its critics traitors, to silence dissent, to pervert the meaning of patriotism and compassion, and to push for legislation that would invade our privacy and destroy our dignity.
But as in life and history, I believe there are always alternatives. So I'd like to propose an alterative framework. Media can also mean the "surrounding environment in which something functions and thrives." Scientists, for example, use the term to refer to substances they use to nurture a particular organism. Media in a petri dish might be used to grow penicillin. Or anthrax. I choose those two germs because our media is in some ways just as neutral a transmission belt: it can carry news that enlightens as easily as it carries news that poisons minds. If we understand our media of mass communication as helping to create the environment in which mass society functions, then the question for our time, as it has been ever since the invention of mass communication, is what kind of information is to be disseminated, by whom, and for what purpose?
In the forward to Bruce Shapiro's new book about investigative journalism Shaking the Foundations, New York columnist Pete Hamill describes the reporter as a member of a tribe who is sent to the back of a cave to find out what's there. "The report must be accurate," Hamill writes. "If there's a rabbit hiding in the darkness, it cannot be transformed into a dragon. Bad reporting, after all, could deprive people of warmth and shelter aned survival on an arctic night. But if there is, in fact, a dragon lurking in the dark, it can't be described as a rabbit. The survival of the tribe could depend on that person with the torch."
We Americans are very lucky to have a rich tradition of torch-bearers poking around the dark corners of the caves of the powerful. Men and women who are determined to speak documented truth to power, and who have a fierce belief in the ability of readers, of citizens, to effect change. I'm thinking of Jacob Riis, who told us how the other half lives in his meticulous documenting of the poverty of New York City slums in the 1890s. Of muckrakers like Lincoln Steffens, Ida Tarbell and Upton Sinclair, who rooted out political corruption, corporate greed, and dangerous working conditions, sparking vital movements for reform. Of Ralph Nader, who was first published in The Nation, and who in 1959 wrote an expose for us called The Safe Car You Can't Buy that helped set off the modern consumer movement. Of Michael Harrington's book The Other America, which galvanized a federal commitment to end poverty.
There are many more torchbearers I should mention: Rachel Carson for her pioneering work on the environment; I.F. Stone for revealing that the Tonkin Gulf incident was a lie; Seymour Hersh and Ron Ridenour for unearthing the massacre at My Lai; Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein for uncovering Watergate. Allan Nairn for showing the connections between the CIA and Latin American death squads. And the list goes on.
I am glad to see your holiness that in your book you endorse investigative journalism, saying it is appropriate to have journalists, "their noses as long as an elephants trunk, snooping around and exposing wrongdoing where they find it."
Citizens cannot make wise choices--in their lives, at work, in politics--without full information about their leaders, their policies, and the truth or falsehood of their statements. Wrongs cannot be corrected without first being exposed. The powerful will naturally be tempted to exploit their power to its fullest if they do not fear that someone is watching them.
And In order to perform these functions, our media must be free--independent not only of government interference, but also of the more subtle pressures imposed on the one hand by would-be moralists who think they know what is best for the public to read and see, and on the other hand by base considerations of private profit which are causing many news outlets to turn away from hard news and towards what we call infotainment.
As we have been documenting in The Nation's pages for some time, while the quantity of media outlets and formats has grown, the number of owners keeps shrinking. Today, a handful of multinationals rule the media cosmos. A media system that enlightens us, that tells us what we need to know, would be a system dedicated to the public interest. Such a system would not be controlled by a cartel of giant corporations which places unlimited power in the hands of limited minds.
But, as I said before, there are always alternatives. And I refuse to believe this is the media world we are stuck with--not only because I try to be a realistic idealist, but also because I see extraordinary changes which breed hope. The tradition of independent investigative reporting is not dead, and you can find vibrant examples of it in both the alternative media--on Amy Goodman's Democracy Now!--as well as in some corporate outlets. For example, it was careful investigative reporting by two journalists at the Chicago Tribune in 1999 that revealed the systemic problems with the state's capital punishment procedures and ultimately led to the commutation of the sentences of all death-row inmates in Illinois.
At the same time, the new technologies of the Internet and digital video have fostered a new generation of independent journalism that is being created directly by the participants in political movements and campaigns. Instead of being subjects of the mass media, millions of people are talking back to the official journalists in ways that are slowly changing and broadening the definition of news.
And something remarkable is taking place. Perhaps the most promising sign of positive change is the emergence of a real media democracy movement, a democratic revolution against media concentration. After years where government agencies basically were able to do whatever the private media giants wanted them to do, this year the sleeping giant--millions of people---awoke to reclaim the airwaves---telling Congress loud and clear that it did not want to live in informational company towns where one company might own all the media. The backlash hit the FCC like a tidal wave, and so far, for once it seems that the forces of democracy and diversity are winning.
Can the Internet, with its culture of free-wheeling grassroots debate, and the media democracy movement, with its goal of breaking up the giant media monopolies, somehow supplant the top-down, profit-oriented, power-following media conglomerates? I don't know, but I believe it is our best hope. Media that is made by people who are responsive to the real interests of their audience, as opposed to the interests of their owners or their advertisers, is far more likely to be media that brings about a peaceful world, nurtures civic society, looks for solutions to problems, doesn't see the world in black and white but more in terms of its complex interdependence, and holds the powerful to account for their actions.
If there is to be an ethical revival in the media, it won't be because we've somehow changed the human nature of the people who work in the media, it will be because we've changed the structures that they have to work in, so they can be their own better selves.
In the end, as Pete Hamill writes, "the full story will come out--it always does--because someone is heading into the cave with a torch."
"Is California Crazy?" was how The Week magazine billed its political discussion yesterday. Journalists (and gossip columnists, politicos, NYC fixtures and one of California's 135 gubernatorial candidates--porn star Mary Carey) filled Michael Jordan's Steakhouse in Grand Central Station for an afternoon panel on the California recall.
Harold Evans moderated a spirited, serious, chaotic, sometimes comical debate between the scions of two political families (Barry Goldwater, Jr and Ron Reagan, now a fighting independent liberal sort), longtime California state legislator and activist Tom Hayden and profiler of the Kennedy family Ed Klein.
I still don't know if California is crazy, but there were moments when California's carnivalesque politics seemed to fill the room, and it was certainly a lively and fairly enlightening discussion among an eclectic group of panelists.
Ron Reagan (RR): The recall is a terrible, infantile idea. The California public is like a two year old--last year they wanted Mommy to buy them a Gray figure, and this year it's the Arnold doll.
Barry Goldwater (BG): It's democracy, it's revenge, it's a good expression of the peoples' will.
Tom Hayden (TH): We don't need this recall. It's been hijacked by money and celebrity. I've known Gray Davis for thirty years. I've fought with him on many issues. This recall has national implications in that Davis took the advice of the centrists in the Democratic Party--scouring money from corporations--and moving the party to the right--that is, to the center. He abused the grassroots and wound up in the middle of the road, alienating his base. New York should listen; there's a lesson here for the rest of the country, for the Democratic Party. We're looking at the results of the failed strategy of the so-called centrist Democratic Leadership Council. Davis went to the limits with deregulation, with fundraising, and alienated his core base. I still want Gray to win because of what Arnold stands for. I know Arnold and he's a decent guy, but look at his after-school program. It required balancing the budget before it starts up. It's like Bush's No Child Left Behind legislation and that's what we'll have if Arnold's course is followed in California.
Bill Simon, Jr, (who ran unsuccessfully against Davis last year was piped in by speaker phone: Davis should be recalled for his incompetence. He lied about the deficit. Those are adequate grounds for recall.
BG: I'm for anything that increases accountability of government.
RR: Much of what you say about Davis--lying and deficits--is also true of Bush. Shouldn't he be recalled? (Sadly, no one took this bait.)
BG: The California recall is a classic example of failed socialism.
RR: How is it that a man who is supposed to be so courageous on screen, is so cowardly on the campaign trail--refusing to debate Davis?
Ed Klein (EK): You know Maria Shriver told him not to engage in debates with Davis. Remember that Saturday Night Live skit, Hans and Franz, (with Dana Carvey and Kevin Nealon playing East European body-builders). Well, if Arnold is Franz, Maria is Hans.
TH: When it comes to the implications of the recall, I don't think we'll see more attention paid to politics. This is celebrity politics with a big bang. And big money. The next Republican strategy is to go to celebrity candidates. Dennis Miller will be next--versus Barbara Boxer--for a Senate seat.
For the Democratic party, the national implication is what Jim Hightower always warns about: There's nothing in the middle of the road except yellow lines and armadillos. The party is engaged in the same debates about Dean's electability. It should be instead healing the breach with Nader and the Greens. The phenomenon of Nader arose because Dems created space for opposition with their pro-corporate policies on NAFTA, WTO. The party has a responsibility to build a bridge to Nader if it wants to be a majority party.
RR: I don't think California will stop being a Democratic Party state but Dems will need to spend more money in California in 2004.
Harold Evans then introduced one of California's candidates for Governor--the porn star Mary Carey, dressed more demurely than usual in a red halter dress. Carey laid out a surprisingly radical platform for the assembled crowd. Its highlights: Tax breast implants ("From Beverly Hills alone, we should bring in millions in tax revenue;" earlier that day, on TV, she had said she would exempt strippers and hookers); Make lap dances a tax-deductible expense; Wire the Governor's Mansion with live web cams in every room ("reality shows are very popular these days, and think if the White House under Clinton had been wired.")
At that point, over the speakerphone, Bill Simon erupted: "Is it too late for me to switch my endorsement from Arnold?," as Hayden declared ruefully, "Well, New Yorkers, you're all Californians now."
And then, in a delayed reaction to Goldwater's statement that the recall was about "socialism failed," Hayden shouted into his mic: "Where's the socialism in California!?"
BG: Well there's been an explosion in growth of government.
TH: So, explosion in growth of government means socialism to you? Then, was Franklin Roosevelt's expansion of government socialism?
Simon: Yes!(By this time, Ron Reagan is looking grimly at Goldwater.)
RR: I was down in Orange County last week, doing some reporting, and there is a fear and loathing of immigrants, immigration.
TH: The majority of the US will be Latino in forty years. It already is majority Latino in California. In my view the most important issue to be decided next week, after the recall, is Prop 54, which seeks to amend the California Constitution to prohibit the state and other public bodies--including local governments, colleges and universities--from classifying individuals and collecting information on them by race, ethnicity, color or national origin. I hope it will be defeated. Dems must build a coalition of middle class whites and blacks and Latinos--but if Dems raise tuitions at state colleges, and rates for homeowners, they're going to lose that possibility.
BG: New York is just as crazy as California. New York has faced these same issues, California is still young; New York is more mature.
Hayden: I don't think the recall is a plot. Davis won with only forty-three percent of the vote--so people saw an opening and seized it.
EK: I'd tell Arnold to get rid of his man tan and Grecian formula. I think he's likely to be a Kennedyesque Republican.
As I snuck out to head back to reality and work, Mary Carey was eyeing Tina Brown's red suit.
Scott McClellan, White House press secretary, falsely accused me of rigging the truth. But before we get to that, the news of the day: the Bush administration is responding ridiculously to reports that the CIA has asked the Justice Department to investigate whether White House officials revealed the identity of an undercover CIA officer to punish or discredit an administration critic.
Regular readers of this column will remember that back in July conservative columnist Bob Novak wrote a piece in which he reported that two "senior administration officials" had told him that the wife of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson (who had publicly challenged the White House's claim that Iraq had been shopping for uranium in Niger), was employed by the CIA and worked on counter-proliferation matters. Novak printed her name. The leakers apparently were trying to suggest that Wilson--who had been sent by the CIA to check out the Niger allegations and who concluded that there was nothing to them--had not been chosen for the job on merit. Wilson said that he considered the leak--which blew his wife's cover and perhaps undermined national security--was a message from the White House to others who might speak out against it: don't cross us, or we'll come after you and your family.
To brag a bit, I was the first journalist to report that the Novak leak was evidence of a possible White House crime. Under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982, it is a felony for an official who possesses classified information to reveal the identity of a covert officer. The punishment is up to ten years imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $50,000. (This law was championed by George H.W. Bush, former CIA director and father of W.) This past weekend, MSNBC.com revealed that the CIA has requested that the Justice Department investigate the anti-Wilson leak. And The Washington Post, citing an unnamed senior administration official, reported that "two top White House officials" had called at least six Washington journalists in an effort to disclose the identity and secret occupation of Wilson's wife. That makes it seem as if there was a White House campaign targeting the Wilsons. (Wilson, by the way, is a winner of the new Ron Ridenhour Award, which is given in honor of the My Lai whistleblower and journalist.)
This is trouble for the White House. And that was evident today at McClellan's daily briefing for reporters. He was repeatedly asked what Bush intended to do to get to the bottom of this ugly episode. In essence, McClellan's answer was, nothing. Over and over, McClellan said the Justice Department, not the White House, was the "appropriate agency" to investigate. And he said that anyone with information on this matter should contact the Justice Department--not the president. But shouldn't the president be taking steps on his own? the reporters wondered. Every time that query was placed in front of McClellan, he batted it away with a stock reply, noting that the White House had no information beyond the media reports--which were based on anonymous sources--to "suggest White House involvement" in the Wilson leak. "Are we supposed to chase down every anonymous report in the newspaper?" McClellan asked. And several times, he challenged his inquisitors, "Do you have any specific information to bring to my attention suggesting White House involvement?"
This was a ruse. McClellan was claiming that the White House was not obligated to conduct an inquiry in response to allegations predicated on anonymous sources. But the CIA's request for an investigation indicated these allegations are serious and not merely the routine spin often attributed to anonymous sources in the media. After all, the anonymous quotes that appear in the papers each day rarely charge the White House with criminal behavior that possibly harmed national security. Isn't Bush--who promised to restore honesty and integrity to the White House--curious about whether his aides might have engaged in illegal and underhanded conduct? McClellan maintained that Bush takes the matter seriously. Just not seriously enough to order any action, such as questioning top White House aides.
McClellan did assert that the White House had determined that Bush uber-adviser Karl Rove, was not a party to the Wilson leak. But he declined to say how that had been learned or when he had spoken to Rove about this. McClellan further defended Rove by saying, "I've known Karl for a long time, and I didn't even need to go ask Karl because I know the kind of person that he is, and he is someone that is committed to the highest standards of conduct." ("Have you read any book about him lately?" one reporter replied, and McClellan did not take the bait.) When McClellan was asked if Bush was "convinced that there was no White House involvement" in the Wilson leak, he did not answer.
McClellan presented a poor case for why the Bush White House was refusing to look into the allegations, and the journalists got annoyed. Near the end of the briefing--after McClellan once more explained White House inaction by saying, "if there is specific information that you have to bring to our attention, please do so"--a frustrated reporter exclaimed, "You keep pointing the finger at us to step forward with information. I mean, you're asking us to come forward and reveal things, but you haven't asked the White House staff to."
This was a weird situation. Here was McClellan telling the press corps that he and the White House had absolutely no information of their own on the Wilson leak, yet several reporters--including Novak--know exactly who called them to pass on the information on Wilson's wife. These reporters, though, can only reveal the truth by ratting out a confidential source. As of yet, none of them have done so. In fact, several White House reporters with whom I spoke--who were not contacted by the leakers--had only guesses as to which White House aides might have orchestrated the Wilson leak. That is, the identity of the leakers has not yet become out-in-the-open scuttlebutt. But there are journalists--NBC's Andrea Mitchell appears to be one--who can say definitively whether the White House was behind the leak.
Shortly before McClellan hit the podium, Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer called for a special counsel to handle the investigation. He argued that Attorney General John Ashcroft and his political appointees should not be trusted to oversee a probe of the White House. Asked about a special counsel, McClellan said there was no need, and he asserted the Justice Department could handle it. "Scott," one reporter said, "the statement you gave about why there shouldn't be a special prosecutor was almost word for word what the Clinton people said in 1994 about why there shouldn't be a special prosecutor in Whitewater. Why should it stand now if it didn't stand then?" McClellan answered: "I just reject that comparison." The reporters laughed.
Pity McClellan. He has a tough task--to depict the president as caring about the leak even though he is doing nothing about it. The White House could well end up being ensnared in this scandal. The early signs are that there was indeed a plot to get Wilson (and destroy the career of his wife). The news reports indicate that some administration officials--perhaps only one or two--are upset about this and are willing to talk to reporters. If they're willing to talk to reporters, they might be willing to speak to prosecutors. The CIA must be committed to pushing the issue, otherwise it would not have requested an inquiry that places the White House in the crosshairs. Before this, the CIA and the White House had engaged in tense scuffling concerning the uranium-from-Niger controversy. But Tenet's request for an investigation was the bureaucratic equivalent of going nuclear. Now the Justice Department is in the spotlight. Will it go ahead with an investigation that threatens the White House? And will its decisions in this case be regarded as credible and not influenced by politics? Schumer says that he is rounding up more Democrats to join his call for a special counsel. In the meantime, McClellan will have to keep on dancing.
Speaking of which. At one point at the press conference, the subject shifted to a letter recently sent to Tenet by the House intelligence committee reporting on the committee's review of the prewar intelligence on Iraq's WMDs and ties to terrorists. The committee found that this intelligence--which Bush has said was a solid basis for going to war--was predicated on fragmentary, circumstantial and out-of-date information and contained "too many uncertainties." McClellan noted, "Let's look at what we knew. We knew, just like the United Nations Security Council and intelligence agencies across the world and previous administrations, that Saddam Hussein...had large, unaccounted for stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons....We knew all these facts. Then came September 11th."
Wrong. And since I was there in the White House briefing room, I pointed out this was not the case, noting that Secretary of State Colin Powell had said in early 2001 that there were no stockpiles ("Hussein has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction"), that the Defense Intelligence Agency in September 2002 had concluded there was no "reliable information" on whether Iraq had chemical weapons stockpiles, and that the UN inspectors had not said there were WMD stockpiles. "Where are you getting your information?" I asked. Referring to the Powell statement, McClellan said, "That's not what he said....I think you're mischaracterizing Secretary Powell's comments." But it was what he said in 2001, I countered. McClellan then claimed "it was well documented by the United Nations Security Council that there were undocumented stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons." No, I said, and referred to Rolf Ekeus, the former executive chairman of the UN inspections in the 1990s. In a 2000 interview, Ekeus said, "There are no large quantities of weapons [in Iraq]. I don't think that Iraq is especially eager in the biological and chemical area to produce such weapons for storage. Iraq views those weapons as tactical assets instead of strategic assets, which would require long-term storage of those elements, which is difficult. Rather, Iraq has been aiming to keep the capability to start up production immediately should it need to."
McClellan did not counter facts with facts. Instead, he tossed out rhetoric: "America is safer, the world is better, the world is safer because Saddam Hussein and his brutal regime have been removed from power."
The facts are closing in on Bush and his crowd. And perhaps the law--that is, if Bush's comrades at the Justice Department are on the level. As Iraq continues to be a $170 billion headache, they have tied themselves to the mast of their prewar misrepresentations. As the Wilson leak threatens to become a primetime scandal, they are yielding no ground and hoping this inconvenience blows past. All in all, a precarious position for Bush. These are messes too severe to be straightened out by McClellan's heavy-handed, ludicrous spin.
JUST RELEASED: David Corn's new book, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers, due out September 30). For more information and a sample, check out the book's official website: www.bushlies.com.
Did retired General Anthony Zinni really call George W. Bush's war in Iraq a "brain fart"? That seems to be the case. But first, some background.
On Thursday night, Zinni, the former commander of the U.S. Central Command, was interviewed by Ted Koppel on Nightline. And he was rather sharp in his assessment of George W. Bush's policy in Iraq. Before the war, Zinni, who had been an envoy for Bush in the Middle East, opposed a U.S. invasion of Iraq, arguing that Saddam Hussein did not pose an imminent threat. On Nightline, Zinni compared Bush's push for the war with the Gulf of Tonkin incident--an infamous episode in which President Lyndon Johnson misrepresented an attack on two U.S. Navy destroyers in order to win congressional approval of the war in Vietnam--and he challenged "the credibility behind" Bush's prewar assertions concerning Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction and its association with anti-American terrorists. "I'm suggesting," Zinni said, "that either the [prewar] intelligence was so bad and flawed--and if that's the case, then somebody's head ought to roll for that--or the intelligence was exaggerated or twisted in a way to make a more convenient case to the American people." Zinni said he believed that Hussein had maintained "the framework for a weapons of mass destruction program that could be quickly activated once sanctions were lifted" and that such a program, while worrisome, did not immediately endanger the United States.
Zinni raised the issue that Bush might have purposefully misled the public and not shared with it the true reason for the war: "If there's a strategic decision for taking down Iraq, if it's the so-called neoconservative idea that taking apart Iraq and creating a model democracy, or whatever it is, will change the equation in the Middle East, then make the [public] case based on that strategic decision....I think it's a flawed--like the domino theory--it's a flawed strategic thought or concept....But if that's the reason for going in, that's the case the American people ought to hear. They ought to make their judgment and determine their support based on what the motivation is for the attack."
Zinni was, in a way, being polite. Earlier in the month, he addressed a forum sponsored by the U.S. Naval Institute and the Marine Corps Association. There he let loose. Reflecting the views of high-ranking U.S. military officials who were dubious about launching a war against Iraq and skeptical about the occupation that would follow, Zinni accused the Bush crowd of having not been ready for the challenges to come after defeating the Iraqi army. "We're in danger of failing," he noted, because the Bush administration had not readied itself for what would follow the initial military engagement. "We fought one idiot here [in Iraq], just now," he said. "Ohio State beat Slippery Rock 62 to 0. No shit! You know! But we weren't ready for that team that came onto the field at the end of that three-week victory." He went on:
"Right now, in a place like Iraq, you're dealing with Jihadists that are coming in to raise hell, crime on the streets that's rampant, ex-Ba'athists that still running around, and the potential now for this country to fragment: Shi'ia on Shi'ia, Shi'ia on Sunni, Kurd on Turkomen. It's a powder keg. I just got back from Jordan. I talked to a number of Iraqis there. And what I hear scares me even more that what I read in the newspaper. Resources are needed, a strategy is needed, a plan. This is a different kind of conflict. War fighting is one element of it."
Zinni displayed little confidence in Bush and his aides. He said that their Iraq endeavor has landed the United States into the middle of assorted "culture wars" in the Middle East. "We don't understand that culture," he remarked. "I've spent the last 15 years of my life in this part of the world. And I'll tell you, every time I hear...one of the dilettantes back here speak about this region of the world, they don't have a clue. They don't understand what makes them tick. They don't understand where they are in their own history. They don't understand what our role is....We are great at dealing with the tactical problems--the killing and the breaking. We are lousy at solving the strategic problems; having a strategic plan, understanding about regional and global security and what it takes to weld that and to shape it and to move forward."
Do you think Zinni is angry over the war? He did get worked up as he ended his speech:
"We should be...extremely proud of what our people did out there....It kills me when I hear of the continuing casualties and the sacrifice that's being made. It also kills me when I hear someone say that, well, each one of those is a personal tragedy, but in the overall scheme of things, they're insignificant statistically." (Perhaps he had in mind the comment Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made in June, when he played down attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq by saying, "You've got to remember that if Washington, D.C., were the size of Baghdad, we would be having something like 215 murders a month; there's going to be violence in a big city.") Zinni continued: "When we put [our enlisted men and women] in harm's way, it had better count for something, It can't be because some policy wonk back here has a brain fart of an idea of a strategy that isn't thought out."
Brain fart? That's not quite a military term. But those are fighting words. And Zinni practically counseled his audience to rebel against the Bush administration. U.S. troops, he said, "should never be put on a battlefield without a strategic plan, not only for the fighting--our generals will take care of that--but for the aftermath and winning that war. Where are we, the American people, if we accept this, if we accept this level of sacrifice without that level of planning? Almost everyone in this room, of my contemporaries--our feelings and our sensitivities were forged on the battlefields of Vietnam, where we heard the garbage and lies, and we saw the sacrifice. We swore never again would we do that. We swore never again would we allow it to happen. And I ask you, is it happening again? And you're going to have to answer that question, just like the American people are."
Brain fart. Garbage and lies. Never again. This was harsher rhetoric than Zinni deployed on Nightline, though his message was essentially the same. With such talk, he is in sync with Senator Ted Kennedy, who was blasted by Republicans for calling the war a "fraud." Note to Kennedy and other critics of the war: Fire away. If a Republican counter-attacks, you can always reply, at least I didn't say Bush is asking Americans to give their lives for a war based on mental flatulence.
COMING SOON: David Corn's new book, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers, due out September 30). For more information and a sample, check out the book's official website: www.bushlies.com.