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Why Bush Shed His GI Joe Gear

Has anyone noticed that our commander-in-chief no longer plays dress up? He hasn't done so for a while and that's no small thing. It's a phenomenon that came and went almost without comment in the media.

I don't remember the first time I noticed that George W. Bush liked to dress up. It could have been in May 2003 when he strutted across that carrier deck all togged out to announce that "major combat operations had ended" in Iraq, or when he started appearing before massed, hoo-ahing troops in military-style jackets with "George W. Bush, Commander in Chief" hand-stitched across the chest, or when he served that inedible turkey in Baghdad. I can't tell you either when it first registered that he was visibly enjoying himself "in uniform"; or when it occurred to me that this was not just play-acting, but actual play of a very young and un-presidential sort; or when I first noticed that, "in uniform," he looked strangely like a life-sized version of the original 12-inch GI Joe doll. ("Action figure" was the term first invented for it, because who wanted a boy to think he had a Barbie, even if it came with its own "beach assault fatigue shirt" and "bivouac pup-tent set"?)

Here's something I suspect goes with the above. With rare exceptions, the fiercest post-9/11 "warriors" of this administration were never in the military. They had, in the Vice President's words, "other priorities in the ‘60s." Hence that old (and not very useful) term "chickenhawks." On the other hand, a surprising number of Democrats in Congress had actually served in the military -- not that, from Senators Max Cleland and John Kerry to Jack Reed, it's done them much political good. Americans have preferred, it seems, to hear their war stories from the men who sat out the wars.

The reason, I suspect, is simple enough. I'm about George Bush's age. My father, like his, fought in Asia in World War II. In the 1950s, my childhood years, that generation of fathers -- the ones I knew, anyway -- were remarkably silent on their actual war experiences, but to us kids that made no difference. All we had to do was walk to the nearest neighborhood movie theater, catch Merrill's Marauders, or some other war flick, and it was obvious enough just what heroic things they had accomplished. George Bush and I both sat in the dark, enveloped in the same American mythic tradition -- already then a couple of hundred years old -- that I've called "victory culture"; we knew Americans deserved to, and would, triumph against savage enemies out on some distant frontier; we both thrilled to the sound of the bugle as the blue coats charged; we both felt the chills run up our spine as, with the Marine Hymn welling up, the Marines advanced victoriously while "The End" flashed on the screen.

Here's the difference: I left that movie theater in the Vietnam era. Much of the Bush administration seems to have remained in the dark. There, it seems, they sat out defeat and emerged strangely untouched, as I've written elsewhere, as the Peter Pans of American war play. While, in the 1980s, G.I. Joe shrunk to 3¾-inch size to squeeze into the Star-Wars universe and began fighting fantasy villains, while others absorbed the Vietnam lesson, they arrived in the post-9/11 moment with a still untarnished dream of American triumphalism. And that, as Ira Chernus makes clear in a recent essay, "Glued to Our Seats in the Theater of War," is what Americans wanted--and many, against all odds, still want--to hear.

The President and his top officials were the ones who could still embody the idea of a "Good War," both enjoying the performance themselves and making it seem thrilling; and, for some years, a remarkable number of Americans suspended Vietnam-style disbelief and went with the flow. Under the circumstances, a surprising number still do. It just turned out--and who in the "reality-based" world can truly be surprised--that they couldn't translate their all-American fantasy world, or the President's dress-up dreams, into reality. Fighting actual wars proved a painfully different matter.

Blackwater, Oil and the Colonial Enterprise

Blackwater USA's mercenary mission in Iraq is very much in the news this week, and rightly so. The private military contractor's war-for-profit program, which has been so brilliantly exposed by Jeremy Scahill, may finally get a measure of the official scrutiny it merits as the corporation scrambles to undo the revocation by the Iraqi government of its license to operate in that country. There will be official inquiries in Baghdad, and in Washington. The U.S. Congress might actually provide some of the oversight that is its responsibility. Perhaps, and this is a big "perhaps," Blackwater's "troops" could come home before the U.S. soldiers who have been forced to fight, and die, in defense of these international rent-a-cops.

But it is not the specific story of Blackwater that matters so much as the broader story of imperial excess that it illustrates.

If Blackwater, with an assist from the U.S. government, beats back the attempt by the Iraqis to regulate the firm's activities -- as now appears likely, considering Friday's report that the firm has resumed guarding U.S. State Department convoys in Baghdad -- we will have all the confirmation that is needed of the great truth of the U.S. occupation of Iraq: This is a colonial endeavor no different than that of the British Empire against America's founding generation revolted.

But even if Blackwater loses its fight to stay, even if the corporation is forced to shut down its multi-billion dollar, U.S. Treasury-funded operation in Iraq, the brief "accountability moment" may not be sufficient to open up the necessary debate about Iraq's colonial status. The danger, for Iraq and the United States, that honest assessment of the crisis will lose out to face-saving gestures designed to foster the fantasy of Iraqi independence.

It is not enough that Blackwater is shamed and perhaps sanctioned. A Blackwater exit from Iraq will mean little if its mercenary contracts are merely taken over by one or more of the 140 other U.S.-sanctioned private security firms operating in that country -- such as Vice President Dick Cheney's Halliburton.

Whatever the precise play out of this Blackwater moment may be, the likelihood is that the colonial enterprise will continue. That's because, in the absence of intense pressure from grassroots activists and the media, Congress is unlikely to go beyond a scratch at the surface of what is actually going on in Iraq.

The deeper discussion requires that a discussion about the substance that no less a figure than former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan describes as the reason for the invasion and occupation of this particular Middle Eastern land: oil

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. aptly observed that "colonialism was made for domination and for exploitation," and there is no substance that the Bush-Cheney administration is more interested in dominating and exploiting than oil.

Thus, while it is right to pay close attention to the emerging discussion about Blackwater's wicked work in Iraq, Americans would do well to pay an equal measure of attention to the still largely submerged discussion about an Iraqi oil deal that will pay huge benefits to the Hunt Oil Company, a Texas firm closely linked to the administration. How closely? When he was running Halliburton, Cheney invited Hunt Oil Company CEO Ray Hunt to serve on the firm's board of directors. Hunt, a "Bush Pioneer" fund raiser during the 2000 campaign recently donated the tidy sum of $35 million to George W.'s presidential library building fund.

The new "production sharing agreement" between Hunt Oil and the Kurdistan Regional Government puts one of the administration's favorite firms in a position to reap immeasurable profits while undermining essential efforts to assure that Iraq's oil revenues will be shared by all Iraqis. Hunt's deal upsets hopes that Iraq's mineral wealth might ultimately be a source of stability, replacing the promise of economic equity with the prospect of a black-gold rush that will only widen inequalities and heighten ethnic and regional resentments.

The Hunt deal is so sleazy -- and so at odds with the stated goals of the Iraqi government and the U.S. regarding shared oil revenues -- that even Bush acknowledges that U.S. embassy officials in Baghdad are deeply concerned. What Bush and Cheney won't mention is the fact that Iraq's oil minister, Hussain al-Shahristani, says the deal is illegal.

Unfortunately, as with the Blackwater imbroglio, however, there is no assurance that the stance of the Iraqi government is definitional with regard to what happens in Iraq. All indications are that what happens in Washington matters most. And that is why it is so very disturbing that, for the most part, members of Congress -- even members who say they do not want the United States to have a long-term presence in Iraq -- have been slow to start talking about Hunt's oil rigging.

That is why it is disturbing that, for the most part, members of Congress -- even members who say they do not want the United States to have a long-term presence in Iraq -- have been slow to start talking about Hunt's oil rigging.

One House member who has raised the alarm is Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich, who in his capacity as a key member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, has asked the committee's chairman, California Democrat Henry Waxman, to launch an investigation into the Hunt Oil deal.

"As I have said for five years, this war is about oil," argues Kucinich, who is mounting an anti-war bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, declared on the floor of the House this week. "The Bush Administration desires private control of Iraqi oil, but we have no right to force Iraq to give up control of their oil. We have no right to set preconditions to Iraq which lead Iraq to giving up control of their oil. The Constitution of Iraq designates that the oil of Iraq is the property for all Iraqi people."

With that in mind, Kucinich explains, "I am calling for a Congressional investigation to determine the role the Administration may have played in the Hunt-Kurdistan deal, the effect the deal will have on the oil revenue sharing plan and the attempt by the Administration to privatize Iraqi oil."

Waxman has been ahead of the curve on Blackwater, seeking testimony from the firm's chairman at hearings scheduled for early October.

But Waxman needs to expand his focus, and the way to do that is by heeding Kucinich's call for an investigation into the Hunt deal.

That inquiry should begin with two fundamental questions:

Who runs Iraq -- the Iraqis or their colonial overlords in Washington?

And, if the claim is that the Iraqis are in charge, then why is Ray Hunt about to start steering revenues from that country's immense oil wealth into the same Texas bank accounts that have so generously funded the campaigns of George Bush and Dick Cheney?

Dan Rather Won't Take any "Bullshine"

It was riveting television. There was former CBS news anchor Dan Rather, sitting across from CNN's Larry King, railing against the threat powerful media corporations pose to freedom and journalistic integrity. "You can't have freedom if you're going to have large corporations and government intruding on investigative reporting," Dan told a none-too-happy King. Dan's championing of independent media got me thinking about The Nation's first centerfold. Published twelve years ago on glossy paper, this wasn't your typical centerfold. It was a pull out four- page silky spread depicting the media multinational giants which determined so much of what we saw and heard. There were GE, Disney/Cap Cities, Westinghouse (later Viacom/ CBS) and Time-Warner as octopi.... At that time, the threat media consolidation, hyper-conglomeratization posed to our democracy was not an issue on the national radar for debate, let alone televised conversation. But in these last years, as the line between news and entertainment has been forever obliterated--a media and democracy movement has emerged to challenge corporate control of our publicly-owned airwaves. In 2003, three million citizens, in a transpartisan alliance, petitioned the FCC to halt the repeal of cross-ownership rules restricting how many tv or radio stations, newspapers one company could own in one town. Today, media consolidation is the subject of conferences, tv shows, Charlie Rose chatfests, books, legislation and FCC Commissioner Michael Copps has emerged as one of the country's most eloquent champions of more localism and diversity of media ownership and content. And it now appears that Dan Rather will join the hearty and growing band of media reformers as another strong voice on this issue. Certainly, Rather, judging from tonight's CNN interview, views his lawsuit against Viacom, CBS and three of its corporate employees as an attempt to expose--using subpoena power-- how big media conglomerates are more interested in pacifying the powers-that-be than supporting public interest investigative journalism. The trial, if it goes to trial, will put corporate executives like Sumner Redstone under oath--allowing questions about what role the Bush White House may have played in Rather's fate at CBS. Just last April, Rather---perhaps prefiguring the lawsuit he would file-- spoke of the political pressures people working in corporate newsrooms face. In Bill Moyers' superb PBS documentary reporting on how the media--with a few exceptions-- failed to do its job in the runup to war, Rather spoke of how: " Fear is in every newsroom in the country. And fear of what? Well, a combination of : If you don't go along to get along, you're going to get the reputation of being a troublemaker. There's also the fear, particularly in networks. They've become huge, international conglomerates. They have big needs. Legislative needs, in Washington. Nobody has ot send a memo to tell you that that's the case...and that puts a seed in your mind. Well, if you stick your neck out, if you take the risk of going against the grain with your reporting is anybody going to back you up? " Dan Rather was never a newsman who went along " to get along." But now, as songwriter Kris Kristofferson might have put it, Rather seems like a man who understands that freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose. And he's decided he's going to use his freedom to fight for the future of free and independent media.

Democrats Stab MoveOn in the Back

Memo to Democrats: you control the Congress. That means you can decide what bills come to the floor for votes--and what don't. So why, in a week where Republicans blocked the restoration of habeas corpus, voting rights for DC and adequate rest time for our troops between deployments, did you allow Republicans the opportunity to score a cheap PR stunt by approving a resolution condemning a week-old newspaper ad by Moveon.org--on the same day Republicans once again voted to keep indefinitely continuing the Iraq war?!

It boggles the mind. I have no idea what Harry Reid was thinking. Does he think that by repudiating Moveon.org suddenly Fox News will like him? That Ann Coulter will take back all those nasty things she said? That Republicans will stop trying to blame the Democrats for losing this war?

MoveOn has been one of the most effective and persistent voices pushing for progressive change inside the Democratic Party. They helped elect politicians like Jon Tester in Montana and Jim Webb in Virginia, who today stabbed the group in the back. MoveOn didn't start this war. George Bush did. And General Petraeus is keeping it going. They've only been in the majority for nine months, but you'd think by now Democratic leaders in Congress would be able to comprehend the obvious.

Bush Loses It With MoveOn

President Bush has made it clear that he does not read newspapers. And there is little reason to believe that the chief executive spends much time viewing serious news programs before his twilight bedtime.

So it is a bit surprising that he has kept up with the controversy surrounding the MoveOn.org advertisement in the New York Times that urged General David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, to put aside administration talking points and speak blunt and necessary truths when he briefed Congress last week.

It is even more surprising that the commander-in-chief would in an official setting take the extraordinary step of attacking the advertisement and the group that placed it.

But so Bush did on Thursday in what will rank as one of the more remarkable -- and politically petty -- moments of a remarkable and politically-petty presidency.

In the New York Times advertisement, MoveOn proposed the anything-but-radical notion that a failure of frankness on the general's part would be a betrayal of the troops and the country. That's hardly an unreasonable suggestion, coming as it does at a critical stage in the occupation when young men and women from the United States are dying at a rate of one every ten hours and when $200 million is removed from the federal treasury each day to maintain what is so obviously a failed mission.

But the president was upset, and he showed it. Tossed a typical soft-ball question at a presidential press conference Thursday morning, Bush responded by saying, "I thought that the ad was disgusting. I felt like the ad was an attack, not only on General Petraeus, but on the U.S. military. And I was disappointed that not more leaders in the Democrat Party spoke out strongly against that kind of ad. That leads me to come to this conclusion: that most Democrats are afraid of irritating a left-wing group like MoveOn.org -- are more afraid of irritating them than they are of irritating the United States military. That was a sorry deal. And it's one thing to attack me. It's another thing to attack somebody like General Petraeus."

Bush's obviously prepared statement was a clumsy attempt to attack Democratic presidential candidates and congressional leaders. But it created an opening for an unprecedented back-and-forth between the most powerful man in the world and his most aggressive critics. It was hardly necessary on the day when Senate Republicans were engineering a symbolic 72-25 vote rebuking the MoveOn ad that referred to Petraeus as "Betray Us." Had Bush simply offered the standard "I'm not going to get into these political fights" line, or even a pithier "I think the Senate will have something appropriate to say about that," he would have mastered the moment.

Instead, the president handed the loudest microphone in the land to MoveOn. And MoveOn.org Political Action Committee executive director Eli Pariser grabbed it with gusto.

"What's disgusting is that the President has more interest in political attacks than developing an exit strategy to get our troops out of Iraq and end this awful war," said Pariser, who argued that, "The President has no credibility on Iraq: he lied repeatedly to the American people to get us into the war. Most Americans oppose the war and want us to get out. Right now, there are about 168,000 American soldiers in Iraq, caught in the crossfire of that country's unwinnable civil war, and the President has betrayed their trust and the trust of the American people."

MoveOn's leaders would be the first to acknowledge that they are not perfect strategists. Like any high-profile activist group, MoveOn makes mistakes that even supporters second guess. Reasonable people can and will question whether the "Betray Us" ad delivered the right message at the right time.

But there is no way that provoking a president to attack your organization's message -- and in so doing to emphasize that leading figures on the national political stage remain resolutely allied with you -- can be counted as anything but a masterstroke.

While the fiercest partisans -- and Fox personalities -- may choose to try and portray the president's outburst as a bold gesture, a show of resolve, a rallying cry or whatever other spin comes to mind, sincere supporter of the president or his war cannot be comfortable with what has transpired. And honest observers, no matter what their political bent, will acknowledge that MoveOn just won a major round.

Anytime a grassroots political group is mentioned by the president of the United States, it gains attention and status as a prime player in the national debate. Add to this simple reality of the political process the fact that Bush is one of the most unpopular presidents in history, and that his declining circumstance is so closely linked with the war, and it is nothing short of amazing that he has chosen to emphasize his morass by getting into a shoving match with MoveOn.

The president's reckless decision to engage in this sort of political infighting at the same time that he and his aides are busy complaining about an increasingly bitter and partisan debate about the occupation makes this a particularly bad day for a president who only yesterday was battered by polling data that confirmed the Petraeus ploy had done nothing to alter anti-war sentiment among the American people.

Presumably, an urgent call will be going out to a certain retired White House political czar. After all, even an electoral street fighter like Karl Rove knows that you don't let a president climb down from his bully pulpit and start wrestling with his loudest critics -- especially a president whose credibility has been stretched beyond he breaking point.

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John Nichols' latest book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

Combatants for Peace

This past January a ten year old Palestinian girl, Abir Aramin, was hit by a rubber bullet fired by Israeli Border Police as she was making her way home from school in East Jerusalem.

According to an account by Donald Macintyre writing in the Independent of London, Abir was with her sister and two friends after buying chocolate at a grocery shop having just finished a math exam. One of the friends, 12-year-old Abrar Abu Qweida, said an Israeli Jeep passed them in the opposite direction and she noticed a gun protruding from the rear.

Moments later, she said, she heard a loud bang and like Abir's sister Arin, 11, hunched her shoulders in an instinctive reaction. She said that Abir fell forward. A boy who helped to take Abir into her nearby school handed the Israeli legal rights agency Yesh Din a rubber bullet he said he found under her body.

The official investigation into the girl's death was closed quickly by Israeli authorities without any prosecution or explanation of how it happened.

Abir's father, Bassam Aramin, is a former Fatah militant who -- long before his daughter's death -- renounced violence to devote his time to fostering peaceful dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis. Despite his grief he has used the killing of his daughter to further his reconciliation efforts with the help of a group of Israeli ex-soldier friends in the unique organization, Combatants for Peace.

The group, composed largely of former combat soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces and Palestinians involved in armed resistance, is working to build a playground in her name at Abir's former school as it seeks justice in the form of a legitimate criminal investigation into the causes of her death.

Watch this video for background on Combatants for Peace.

The fundraising for the playground has only started recently. Former fighters will work side by side to build the site, showing the world the possibilities of peaceful, productive collaboration between Palestinians and Israelis. The project plan was designed voluntarily by landscape architect Judy Green and can be viewed here. When completed, the school grounds will include two play areas, a ball field, fruit and olive trees, a memorial fountain, and numerous places for children to sit, play, and talk.

The entire project can be funded for only $25,000 and more than $7,000 has been raised already. Click here to donate and find out more about the uniquely inspirational stories behind the Combatants for Peace.

An Iraqi "Eliot Ness" Out in the Cold--UPDATED

Three days ago, I called the State Department with a question: what is the Bush administration doing to help Radhi al-Radhi? The answer appears to be this: nothing.

I was referring to the former Iraqi judge who until recently was head of the Commission on Public Integrity, the independent government agency tasked with investigating corruption within the Iraqi government. As I've previously reported, earlier this month Radhi was forced out of his job by the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, while Radhi and several of his investigators were attending a training session in Washington sponsored by the U.S. government. A draft of a secret U.S. embassy report--which was first revealed in this column--depicts Radhi as a diligent and serious (though hobbled) pursuer of the rampant corruption infesting the Maliki government. (You can read the full draft report--which concludes that corruption is the "norm" throughout most Iraqi ministries--here.)

Radhi was apparently tossed out of his job because he pushed too hard on corruption within the Maliki administration. He was replaced with a Maliki ally who last month was arrested on corruption charges. Moreover, the Iraqi government cut off Radhi's funding while he was in the United States--except for a small pension of several hundred dollars a month. (As a former government official who held a minister's rank, Radhi says he is due ten times as much in retirement pay.) Given that Radhi has accused past and present government officials of corruption and has recently said that the Maliki administration is so rotten it ought to be abolished, it would be unwise for him to return to Iraq, where his family remains. "I consider him Iraq's version of Eliot Ness," says Chris King, an American who was a senior adviser to Radhi in Iraq. "Time and time again, he put himself and his family at risk to prosecute corruption and promote the rule of law in a nonsectarian, non-ethnic, non-tribal and nonpolitical manner."

Now Radhi has essentially been stranded in the United States. Last week, the 62-year-old former jurist, who was imprisoned and tortured during Saddam Hussein's regime, had to leave the Alexandria, Virginia, hotel where he was staying because he could not pay the bill.

Up until Maliki and his allies removed Radhi, State Department advisers were working with Radhi and his anticorruption commission. It was the U.S. government that brought him and his investigators to Washington for training sessions conducted by the Justice Department and the Defense Department. But now the State Department, according to Radhi associates and U.S. government officials, is not aiding the former judge. "No U.S. government agency has provided him any help to date," says a Radhi associate. On Monday morning, I asked Nicole Thompson, a State Department spokesperson, if this is true. She promised a quick answer. No reply came quickly. When I called again, she told me she had to check with Bureau of Near East Affairs and the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. On Wednesday afternoon, Thompson called with an official response:

State Department officials have met with Judge Radhi and are aware of his situation. As a standard practice, we do not comment on private conversations.

But according to Radhi associates, State Department officials met with him about two weeks ago, and Radhi has not heard anything from the department since then. "Judge Radhi is in immigration limbo," says Christopher Nugent, a lawyer who is working pro bono with Radhi. "He is a man without a state, contemplating his options."

It's no surprise the State Department has displayed little interest in assisting Radhi. For the Bush administration, Radhi is an inconvenient Iraqi. And he is speaking out while in the United States. Radhi is scheduled to testify about corruption in the Iraqi government next week before the House oversight and government reform committee chaired by Representative Henry Waxman. (On Tuesday, Waxman released a letter noting that according to seven current and former officials, State Department Inspector General Howard Krongard has repeatedly interfered with investigations to protect the White House and State Department from political embarrassment.)

When Radhi appears before Waxman's committee, his testimony can be expected to shoot a hole in the Bush administration's rationale for its military action in Iraq. George W. Bush has said the point of the so-called surge is to create "breathing space" in which Maliki's government can achieve national reconciliation and provide basic services to the people of Iraq. Yet Radhi says the Maliki government is so sleaze-ridden and so dominated by criminals that it cannot achieve anything. This raises an obvious question: is the current Iraqi government worth dying and killing for?

During their recent appearances on Capitol Hill, General David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker did not address the issue of corruption within the Maliki government. The pair discussed the Maliki administration in hopeful and positive terms. Crocker saluted Maliki's "patriotism." But Radhi's damning conclusions about the Maliki administration challenge Bush's strategy, which is predicated on the notion that the Maliki administration, given a chance, can take meaningful steps to bring peace and security to Iraq.

The Bush White House is apparently not eager to see Radhi testify that the Maliki government is a criminally-run cesspool of fraud and waste. That may explain why the State Department has abandoned Radhi. The State Department also has no plans, according to a spokesperson for the U.S. embassy in Iraq, to release the draft report detailing corruption in the Iraqi government. In fact, according to Waxman, the State Department may try to classify that report retroactively. The copy of the draft I obtained was marked "SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED."

The State Department also has withheld this secret U.S. embassy document from Congress. On September 10, Waxman sent a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rive requesting copies of "all reports prepared by the Office of Accountability and Transparency [within the State Department], whether classified or unclassified, relating to the Iraqi Commission on Public Integrity." This request covered the secret U.S. embassy report on Iraqi corruption, for this report was drafted by officials of the Office of Accountability and Transparency [OAT]. The State Department refused to turn over to Waxman any OAT records, but it allowed staffmembers of Waxman's committee to inspect documents at the State Department. After that review, Waxman reiterated his demand that copies be given to the committee. (The 82-page draft report, though, was posted on the Internet this week.)

Waxman's committee also requested interviews with three Office of Accountability and Transparency officials who worked on Iraqi corruption matters. One, James Mattil, showed up for an interview. The State Department refused to make the other two officials--Vincent Foulk and Christopher Griffith--available to the committee.

Yesterday, Waxman sent another letter to Rice demanding that the OAT documents be handed over today and that Foulk, Griffith, and James Santelle, the rule of law coordinator at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, appear for interviews with the committee. Waxman noted he was prepared to subpoena the State Department if the documents and witnesses were not produced.

Keep Radhi isolated, cover up the draft report and other documents on corruption, sit on witnesses--the State Department is doing what it can to prevent the issue of corruption from undermining the White House's current rationale for the war. Radhi, who would like to return to his job pursuing fraud and waste in Iraq (but who knows that's not likely to happen), says he has no political agenda. He merely wants the truth about the Iraqi government to be known. "His only commitment," says an associate, "is to the rule of law and transparency." But Radhi's truth is trouble for the Bush administration. As he has gone from U.S.-supported investigator to an in-the-cold whistleblower, it looks as if the Bush administration has decided that regarding Radhi the mission is a simple one: cut and run.

UPDATE: As I reported above, Representative Henry Waxman, the chairman of House government oversight and reform committee, on September 19 asked the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to turn over to him a copy of the secret draft Baghdad embassy report on corruption in the Iraqi government and other documents and to produce three State Department officials for interviews with committee investigators.

Rice had not done so. In response, Waxman has issued subpoenas to the State Department for these records and witnesses.

Meanwhile, Waxman's committee is proceeding with the hearing on Iraqi corruption--scheduled for September 27--that will feature Radhi.

Don't Like Noam Chomsky? Try Alan Greenspan

Remember Michael Ignatieff's "Getting Iraq Wrong," the New York Times Sunday Magazine essay in which he explained that he supported the war in Iraq because he was a sensitive academic prone to big dreams? Ignatieff managed to admit that he had been wrong while attacking the people who'd been right all along: "Many of those who correctly anticipated catastrophe did so not by exercising judgment but by indulging in ideology," he wrote. "They opposed the invasion because they believed the President was only after the oil or because they believed America is always and in every situation wrong." Not very gracious, that.

Personally, I have no idea why we went to war in Iraq. Even at the time it seemed insane. After all, the Bush Administration knew everything war opponents knew: that Saddam hadn't been involved in 9/11, didn't have WMD, wasn't a mighty military force about to pounce on the world. Cruel as the regime was, I never bought the view that the war was a humanitarian rescue mission, either. There are too many harsh dictatorships, too many places full of horror -- Congo, Darfur, Burma -- that the US basically ignored. As for bringing democracy to the Mdidle East, where would that leave our good friend Saudi Arabia? I basically figured the decision to invade was one of those overdetermined situations, a murky confluence of motives and actors and schemes, like most wars. We'd have to wait for the historians to sort it all out in fifty years.

Or maybe not. In his new book Alan Greenspan ,no lefty peacenik, writes, "I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil."

Oh. I wonder how Michael Ignatieff would respond to that.

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While we're on the subject of war, here's a poem that arrived in my inbox this morning from VoicesinWartime.org. Dunya Mikhail is a Baghdad-born poet currently living in Michigan. She has written four volumes of poetry in Arabic and one in English. This poem was translated by Elizabeth Winslow. (Note added later: Apparently this is an abridged version. You can read the whole poem here. )

The War Works Hard
by Dunya Mikhail

How magnificent the war is!
How eager
and efficient!
. . .

The war continues working, day and night.
It inspires tyrants
to deliver long speeches,
awards medals to generals
and themes to poets.
It contributes to the industry
of artificial limbs,
provides food for flies,
adds pages to the history books,
achieves equality
between killer and killed,
teaches lovers to write letters,
accustoms young women to waiting,
fills the newspapers
with articles and pictures,
builds new houses
for the orphans,
invigorates the coffin makers,
gives grave diggers
a pat on the back
and paints a smile on the leader's face.
The war works with unparalleled diligence!
Yet no one gives it
a word of praise.

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Katha Pollitt's collection of personal essays, Learning to Drive and Other Life Stories, is just out from Random House. These are not Nation columns; in fact, most are previously unpublished. "Watching Pollitt level her incisive wit at targets as disparate as Marxism and motherhood makes "Learning to Drive" a rewarding and entertaining read."--San Francisco Chronicle

For upcoming readings and appearances, click here.

Habeas Corpus and a Senate Race in Maine

The United States Senate celebrated this week's 220th anniversary of the Constitution by failing to endorse the restoration of the habeas corpus protections that legal scholar Albert Venn Dicey once described as being "worth a hundred constitutional articles guaranteeing individual liberty."

Of all the insults to the nation's founding principles that have been recorded in this era of undeclared wars, unwarranted spying and unlimited executive excess, none is more galling than this one.

That a single senator, having sworn an oath to defend the Constitution, would vote against the renewal of habeas corpus protections ought to be a shock to the system.

That 43 of them -- enough to block a cloture motion that would have allowed the Senate majority to undo the damage done by the Military Commissions Act of 2006 -- is evidence of the depth to which the Republic has sunk.

The founders of the American experiment left no doubt of the commitment of the new United States to the rule of law and right. While Madison, Mason and their contemporaries assumed that habeas corpus protections would be embraced and respected by all Americans who understood the point of their revolt against the British crown, they specifically added a notation to the Constitution stating that, "The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion, the public safety may require it."

In absence of rebellion or invasion, the Congress voted last fall -- at the behest of then-White House political czar Karl Rove, who hoped in vain that fear-mongering might renew Republican electoral prospects -- to suspend habeas corpus protections for suspects deemed to be "unlawful enemy combatants" by the Bush administration.

Wednesday's cloture vote provided an opportunity for senators to recommit themselves to the Constitution.

Of the 56 votes to restore habeas corpus protections, 49 came from Democrats and one from Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders, who caucuses with the Democrats. Six came from Republicans: Nebraska's Chuck Hagel, Indiana's Richard Lugar, Oregon's Gordon Smith, Maine's Olympia Snowe, Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter and New Hampshire's John Sununu.

Of the 43 votes against the Constitution, 42 came from Republicans and one from Independent-Democrat Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.

What is the best way to react to the vote? By remembering that the two more vulnerable Republican incumbents up for reelection next year, Norm Coleman of Minnesota and Susan Collins of Maine, voted against restoring habeas corpus. They were joined in their Constitutional heresy by four potentially vulnerable Republicans -- John Barrasso of Wyoming, Pete Domenici of New Mexico, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Ted Stevens of Alaska.

In 2008, the Constitution needs to be a campaign issue.

Senators are either for it or against it. And those senators who are against it need to be forced to explain why they should not be replaced by challengers who are committed to swear sincere oaths to defend the document and the fundamental values that it outlines.

Maine's Collins deserves special attention in this regard. While her fellow Republican senator, Snowe, broke ranks to cast a pro-Constitution vote Wednesday, Collins continued to cast her lot with the Bush administration. It is notable that Collins' Democratic challenger, Congressman Tom Allen, voted against the Military Commissions Act last fall.

Allen's name now tops the list of House co-sponsors of the Habeas Corpus Restoration Act of 2007. The Democrat is, as well, a co-sponsor of a number of other measures designed to renew basic liberties and the rule of law, including the Torture Outsourcing Prevention Act, which would prohibit extraordinary rendition of suspects in U.S. custody, and the aptly named: Restoring the Constitution Act of 2007.

The Collins-Allen race offers Maine voters a stark choice, as well as a rare opportunity to cast a vote for Constitutional renewal -- as Maine Republican Snowe did on Wednesday, while Maine Republican Collins did not.

Perhaps the next time the Senate votes on habeas corpus, Maine will have two senators who favor who will bear true faith and allegiance to their oaths to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic."

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John Nichols' latest book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"