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Bush Versus I.F. Stone... and Eisenhower

Something tells me that President Bush did not write the speech he gave today to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Kansas City. For one thing, it was relatively coherent. For another thing, it was steeped in historical references that, while taken out of context and run through the ideological wringer of the neo-conservative spin machine, displayed a historical breadth not frequently associated with the most intellectually-disengaged president since Andrew Johnson.

But the one section of the speech that made me absolutely certain that Bush had nothing to do with its preparation was its attack on journalist I.F. Stone.

Comparing the current quagmire in Iraq with the Korean conflict of more than half a century ago -- as part of a new P.R. campaign designed to build support for maintaining a long-term U.S. military presence in the Middle East, and to cynically portray himself as principled wartime leader -- Bush told the veterans, "After the North Koreans crossed the 38th Parallel in 1950, President Harry Truman came to the defense of the South -- and found himself attacked from all sides. From the left, I.F. Stone wrote a book suggesting that the South Koreans were the real aggressors and that we had entered the war on a false pretext. From the right, Republicans vacillated. Initially, the leader of the Republican Party in the Senate endorsed Harry Truman's action, saying, 'I welcome the indication of a more definite policy' -- he went on to say, 'I strongly hope that having adopted it, the President may maintain it intact,' then later said 'it was a mistake originally to go into Korea because it meant a land war.'"

Anyone who seriously believes that George Bush is familiar with the writings of I.F. Stone and the long and complicated history of how the U.S. military found itself encamped on the Korean Peninsula will surely be among that dwindling percentage of Americans that is convinced weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq.

For the record, the book by Stone to which Bush referred today, The Hidden History of the Korean War, 1950-1951: A Nonconformist History of Our Times, was a provocative text written during the course of the Korean conflict. It featured a dramatically broader critique of Truman's approach to the war than the one Bush mentioned Tuesday; in addition to what would eventually be recognized as groundbreaking exposes of military misdeeds, it referenced a wide variety of concerns expressed by prominent figures on the left and right of the American political spectrum at the time. While reasonable people might debate Stone's interpretations of specific details regarding U.S. foreign policy -- and even friendly critics have suggested he was too easily swayed by Soviet criticisms of South Korea's motivations and actions at the war's beginning -- the veteran journalist was hardly staking out radical turf when he asserted that the U.S. dispatched troops to Korea under dubious circumstances.

As Robin Andersen, a professor of Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University who authored an exceptional book, A Century of Media, a Century of War, has noted, "There exists today little collective memory of the Korean War, a conflict in which Gen. Douglas MacArthur extended centralized control over the press, denied access and instituted blanket censorship. Reports that did come out of Korea were awash in jingoism. I.F. Stone was often a lone voice of reason."

Battling General Douglas MacArthur's extreme censorship of war news, Stone exposed the horrors of the Korean conflict, particularly the killing of innocent civilians with napalm with what the journalist -- who would eventually receive a prestigious George Polk Award for his investigative work -- appropriately described as "a complete indifference to noncombatants."

The man who would become something of a journalistic icon for his reporting on U.S. wrongdoing in Vietnam and elsewhere as the editor of I.F. Stone's Weekly was especially concerned about how the his country got into what would come to be referred to as "Truman's War."

It bothered Stone that the Korean war was, like the current conflict in Iraq, entered into without a proper declaration of war by Congress.

As Nebraska Congressman Howard Buffett -- an old-right Republican who was Warren's father -- explained, "Truman entered that war by his own act."

Instead of going to Congress and asking for a formal declaration of war, the president gamed the system by claiming that U.S. participation in the United Nations required him to send American boys to again die in Asia not five years after World War II had finished. As Buffett explained, "On June 25, 1950, the U.N. Security Council demanded a cease-fire and called on members to render every assistance to the United Nations in the execution of this resolution. Nothing was said about entering the conflict…. But at 12 o'clock noon, on June 27, President Truman ordered United States air and sea units to give the Korean Government troops cover and support. That order put our military forces into the Korean civil war on the side of the South Koreans. At 10:45 that evening, 11 hours later, the Security Council requested members of the U. N. to supply the Republic of Korea with sufficient military assistance to repel invasion."

So it was that Buffett determined that, "Truman entered that war by his own act, and not because of a United Nations decision."

Like Stone, Buffett argued, based on the classified Congressional testimony of Admiral Roscoe Henry Hillenkoetter, the third director of the post-WWII U.S. Central Intelligence Group (CIG), and the first director of the Central Intelligence Agency, that South Korea had initiated the shooting war in Korea. History would raise serious questions about this assessment, but it would never challenge the fundamental wisdom of those who argued that Truman was wrong to send U.S. troops to die in an undeclared and unfocused war -- and that Truman misguided approach would negatively influence the presidents who followed him.

Stone, Buffett and others on the left and right believed more in the Constitution's system of checks and balances than in partisan games or ideological positioning. They wanted wars declared. They wanted Congress to share with the president responsibility for directing foreign policy, especially when it involved military endeavors abroad. And they wanted a an honest discourse about where the U.S. committed its troops -- and why. Denouncing the Truman doctrine -- which Bush seemed to be reasserting with his VFW speech -- Buffett said, "Even if it were desirable, America is not strong enough to police the world by military force. If that attempt is made, the blessings of liberty will be replaced by coercion and tyranny at home."

As the Korean conflict degenerated into the disaster that it became, Stone and Buffett found allies -- on the right, on the left, and ultimately in the political middle.

"My conclusion," wrote Ohio Senator Robert Taft as he prepared a campaign for the 1952 Republican presidential nomination, "is that in the case of Korea, where a war was already under way, we had no right to send troops to a nation, with whom we had no treaty, to defend it against attack by another nation, no matter how unprincipled that aggression might be, unless the whole matter was submitted to Congress and a declaration of war or some other direct authority obtained."

Taft did not become the GOP nominee. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the former Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in Europe and a decidely more moderate political figure, was given the task. Eisenhower ran on a promise that he would go to Korea personally with the purpose of ending what had become an extremely unpopular war.

Eisenhower did just that, traveling to Korea before he was even sworn in as president. By the following summer, with his support and encouragement, a rough peace was achieved. Unfortunately, more than half a century later, the U.S. continues to spend billions of dollars annually to maintain a massive military presence in the region.

Bush did not criticize Eisenhower in his speech to the VFW, presumably because he is no more familiar with the 34th president than he is with I.F. Stone. But if he does actually develop an interest in the period of history he referenced today, the current president might be intrigued by two of his predecessor's statements from the era.

"When people speak to you about a preventive war, you tell them to go and fight it. After my experience, I have come to hate war. ... War settles nothing," explained the old military man.

Eisenhower rejected the argument that keeping up the fight in Korea was necessary to protecting America, and he counseled that a permanent commitment to fighting abroad would -- as his fellow Republican Howard Buffett had earlier suggested -- cost America dearly.

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed," Eisenhower declared in the spring of 1953, as he was dialing down the Korea conflict. "This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. [...] This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron."

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John Nichols' new 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.'"

Cheney Opts for Monarchy

Dick Cheney has left little doubt about the branch of government he would prefer to serve in: the monarchy. Unfortunately, as a citizen of a republic that rejected the divine right of kings 231 years ago this summer, Cheney finds himself in the unfortunate circumstance of having to select from one of the three branches of government established by the American Constitution.

Like many people who cannot get what they really want, Cheney is having a hard time making a second choice.

Responding this week to a Senate Judiciary Committee subpoena seeking documents regarding the role played by the vice president and his aides in establishing and maintaining an illegal program of warrantless spying on the phone conversations of Americans, Cheney's lawyers made the "case" -- if it the word can be employed so loosely -- that the vice president does not have to comply.

Why? Because, they argued, Cheney is not a member of the executive branch of the federal government.

As the vice president's lawyers did when arguing that Cheney did not need to comply with an executive order requiring that his office maintain records of its use of classified information, the vice president's defense team is again asserting the bizarre claim that he is a hybrid official who serves in both the executive and legislative branches of government.

When details of that earlier claim surfaced, Cheney was the subject of international ridicule. As the most powerful vice president in American history -- a man who is, for all intents and purposes, the definitional player in the setting of U.S. foreign policy and an essential player is setting the domestic agenda -- Cheney is more wholly a member of the executive branch than any vice president in American history. While he performs some largely ceremonial duties as the president of the Senate -- president over the chamber a grand total of two times during the first Bush-Cheney term -- there is no question whatsoever that his primary work is that of an executive branch member.

This is as the drafters of the Constitution intended. The responsibilities of the vice president are, for the most part, outlined in the sections of the Constitution establishing the executive branch. More significantly, the vice president is specifically designated as an official who can be impeached by the House and tried for high crimes and misdemeanors by the Senate.

As members of Congress cannot be impeached, any doubt about the proper place of the Office of the Vice President in the federal firmament is settled by those sections of the Constitution that define how and when a holder of the office might be removed.

To argue otherwise would be absurd.

Of course, Cheney and his lawyers are nothing if not absurd.

So it is that Cheney's counsel, Shannen W. Coffin, has informed Senate Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy that "the issuance of the subpoena to this office was procedurally irregular," on the grounds that the Judiciary Committee had only approved the issuance of the summonses to the Executive Office of the President and the Justice Department.

Translation: The subpoena doesn't cover Cheney, so he and his aides doesn't have to comply. In effect, said Leahy, Cheney is claiming to be part of "some kind of fourth branch of government."

"Well," explains Leahy, "that's wrong."

This is not merely the view of the Democratic senator from Vermont.

Even the Bush White House -- which maintains a website that identifies the vice president as a member of the Executive Office of the President-- disagrees with the interpretation of the law proffered by Cheney's lawyers.

So, too, does the United States Code and 220 years of historical precedent, which Leahy illustrated by circulating a 1978 executive order that identified the Office of the Vice President as existing, by definition, within the Executive Office of the President.

Apparently, Leahy noted with regard to Coffin and the rest of Cheney's rapidly-expanding legal team, "these are people that don't look at the law very often."

But they may have to take a crash course soon. The Judiciary Committee chair says that, "The time is up. The time is up. We've waited long enough."

"Right now," explained Leahy, "there's no question that they are in contempt of the valid order of the Congress."

If that circumstance does not change by the time the Senate returns from its August break, the Judiciary Committee chair said he would bring before the committee the question of ask the full Senate to formally hold Cheney in contempt.

With his bizarre claim that he heads his own branch of government, Cheney has indicated that he holds the Senate in contempt. It is long past time for the legislative chamber that is primarily responsible for checking and balancing executive excess to reciprocate.

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John Nichols' new 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.'"

The REAL Hot 100

Do you know a smart, savvy young woman doing great work without receiving the recognition and resources she deserves? Well, then nominate her for this year's REAL hot 100. The project is now taking nominations as Ann recently announced on Feministing.com. If no one springs immediately to mind, check last year's list for inspiration. (The deadline is October 15.)

The REAL Hot 100 is a list of young women who are actively trying to make the world a better place. Founded in 2005 by a group of activists associated with Feministing to combat the lack of positive, strong images of young women in the media, the list recognizes and celebrates young women who are breaking barriers, fighting stereotypes, and making an impact in their communities and the nation--"not because of their physical beauty, but because of the beautiful way in which they look at the world." Last year's winners included a Protestant minister from Iowa, an aerospace engineer from Florida, a violin virtuoso from Tennessee, a burlesque performer in NYC, and a public-interest lawyer from DC.

Click here for more info, here to nominate a young woman you know and here if you want to make a tax-deductible donation to maintain and expand the project.

Challenging the Limits?

The Economist's cover last week asked, "Is America Turning Left?" The magazine's answer--a grudging yes. "...The American people seem to be reacting to conservative overreach by turning left. More want universal health insurance; more distrust force as a way to bring about peace; more like greenery; ever more dislike intolerance on social issues." (Sounds like a common sense program to me; after all, what passes for "left" in American politics is quite moderate by historical standards.) The cover story is catching up to a real and marked progressive shift in Americans' views.

Meanwhile, the forward march of conservatism has come to a screeching halt. Karl Rove, the architect of that never-to-be-had permanent GOP majority, leaves a White House, a party and a movement in shambles. A disastrous war, metastasizing corruption and cronyism, an incompetent and inhumane response to Katrina--no wonder even Republicans believe that Democrats are likely to sweep in '08, winning the White House and increasing their majority margin in both Houses. Republican Congressman Ray LaHood (Ill.), one of a slew of GOP House members retiring this year, was quoted last week in the New York Times lamenting, " I think our party's chances for winning the majority back next time are pretty bleak at the moment." Another GOP congressman Ralph Regula, hinted that he won't seek reelection; one of his main reasons--his bellwether state of Ohio was "moving towards more of a blue state."

Underlying that shift, in Ohio and in many other parts of the country, is greater support for the social safety net, more concern over income inequality, and a growing belief that military strength may not be the best way to secure peace. (Check out recent surveys by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.) But even while there is more fertile terrain for a progressive politics, there are also real limits to the political debate as it's playing out in the Presidential campaign. If those limits aren't actively, intelligently and passionately challenged by the emerging progressive movement--NGOs and activists, thinkers and think-tankers, labor and netroots, and magazines and citizens--we risk losing a critical opening. It is crucial that we use these next months to challenge candidates (and the Democratic Party leadership) to think more boldly and dissent more creatively from a failed conservative consensus of the last quarter century.

Yes, Democratic candidates are sounding more like Populists. They are talking about income inequality, discussing plans for universal healthcare, fair trade, energy independence and, of course, the burning issue of how to end the war. (Meanwhile, GOP candidates discuss the most effective ways to torture and who can sound most mean-spiritedly nativistic.)

Yet no leading Democratic Presidential contender is challenging a military budget that now equals the total amount spent by the rest of the world combined. No leading contender--despite a crumbling infrastructure--falling bridges, collapsing sewers, breached levees, overcrowded and aged schools, flooded subways--lays out a public investment agenda of appropriate scale. No leading contender champions a "Medicare for All" national health care program. No leading contender challenges America's role as global cop or this country's unsustainable global economic strategy. No leading contender is speaking openly about the need to exit the failed "war on terror" that has made our nation less secure. Who among the leading candidates is talking about a "real security" strategy--paying attention to surveys that show a growing number of Americans understand that overwhelming military power won't deal with the central challenges of this century: climate crisis, the worst pandemic in human history (AIDS), the spread of weapons of mass destruction, genocidal conflict and a global economy that is generating greater instability and inequality? Gilded age inequality is attacked and there are calls to repeal Bush's tax cuts for the very rich, but which leading candidate is proposing a return to real progressive taxation? Which candidate talks about challenges to corporate power and lays out a serious strategy to empower workers to win a fair share of their rightful profits? Corporations are shredding the social contract but no leading DemocratIc candidate is arguing for mandatory paid vacations or a national pension program to help workers salvage their ravaged futures? And while there is overwhelming opposition to the war--and a demand that the US end its involvement--every leading Democrat's plan would keep troops and bases in Iraq beyond 2009. Finally, who is talking about our failed criminal justice system--and the disastrous war on drugs? Affordable housing? A restoration of our Constitutional rights and liberties? Democracy reforms--public financing of campaigns, reliable voting machines with a paper trail, ending Jim-Crow like tactics to suppress the vote --which could challenge our downsized politics of excluded alternatives?

It may be that the limits of the current debate are tough to break through in a Presidential election cycle. But for those who care about building a more just, fair and democratic society, for those who care about seizing the moment to build a real progressive politics, isn't it time to make sure that ideas and policies commensurate with the staggering challenges and burdens of these times are raised and debated? That's just what The Nation will be doing in this campaign year --and beyond. And look for a book out this Spring that I am co-editing with Robert Borosage, Co-Director of the Campaign for America's Future and Nation contributing editor. It will explore the failures of the conservative era, challenge the limits of the current debate and lay out bold ideas for these times.

For Rove to Imply He Didn't Leak Plame's Identity Is "Nonsense"

Karl Rove is working feverishly to rewrite history in the few remaining days before he is no longer taking taxpayer money to do the political work of the Bush-Cheney administration.

The White House political czar, who had never been a frequent guest on the talking-head shows where Washington insiders make news on otherwise slow Sundays, was front and center on NBC-TV's "Meet the Press" and Fox News Sunday. The interviews of Rove by NBC's David Gregory and Fox's Chris Wallace were lousy.

Obviously hoping to get Rove's help in landing heftier interviews with those who will remain on the administration's sinking ship longer than the man they referred to as "Bush's brain," Gregory and Wallace asked soft questions and then allowed Rove to dodge them. Indeed, when the discussion came close to getting serious about documented examples of Rove's dramatic abuses of his position, the soon-to-be-former presidential aide glibly responded, "nice try," or declared "I'm going to leave it there" -- essentially telling his supposed inquisitors that it was time to move on to the next topic.

Fortunately, in the discussion that followed the Rove interview on "Meet The Press," Gregory hosted veteran Time Magazine Washington reporter Matt Cooper.

Cooper bluntly described Rove's precise role in the scandalous -- and, depending on chosen interpretations of the law, treasonous -- leaking of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity. That 2003 leak came as part of an administration scheme to discredit Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joe Wilson, who had revealed details about the misuse of intelligence prior to the launch of the Iraq War by President Bush, Vice President Cheney and others.

While Rove is busy evading questions about the abuse of his position to punish a political critic, and while Rove's defenders continue to peddle the lie that says their man was never in the lead when it came to leaking information about Plame, Cooper's comments again confirmed the dirty dealing in which Bush's political henchman engaged on behalf of the president and vice president.

Here is the significant section of the conversation between Gregory and Cooper:

DAVID GREGORY: Matt Cooper, let's pick up on an aspect of the interview with, with Karl Rove having to do with the leak case, the CIA leak case, that you were part of as well. And something that's very interesting, he, he went out of his way to say, "I would not have been a confirming source on this kind of information" and taking issue with, with Novak's testimony in his column that he knew who Valerie Plame was. He said he would never confirm that information. That's different from your experience with him.

MATT COOPER: Yeah, I, I think he was dissembling, to put it charitably. Look, Karl Rove told me about Valerie Plame's identity on July 11th, 2003. I called him because Ambassador Wilson was in the news that week. I didn't know Ambassador Wilson even had a wife until I talked to Karl Rove and he said that she worked at the agency and she worked on WMD. I mean, to imply that he didn't know about it or that this was all the leak...by someone else, or he heard it as some rumor out in the hallway is, is nonsense.

DAVID GREGORY: But he makes no apologies to Valerie Plame.

MATT COOPER: Karl Rove never apologizes. That's not what he does.

Karl Rove will keep spinning for a few more days.

So, too, will Rove's apologists.

But spin is another word for "lie." And, while Rove has every reason to keep spinning, Cooper has no reason at all to do so. Additionally, while Rove avoids mention of precise dates and details with regard to the Wilson-Plame scandal, Cooper is forthcoming and specific.

The truth, as Matt Cooper has made plain, is that attempts by Rove and others to suggest that the political czar served honorably are simply "nonsense."

The question that remains -- for congressional investigators if they ever choose to get serious about their oversight responsibilities -- is not: Did Karl Rove intentionally leak the name of a CIA agent who worked in the sensitive area of investigating weapons of mass destruction? He did that. The question is: Who did Karl Rove consult with before making that leak? Did he talk with the vice president about a plan to discredit an administration critic? Did he talk to the president about leaking the identity of a CIA operative?

David Gregory and Chris Wallace failed to ask Karl Rove the relevant questions.

The House and Senate Intelligence Committees, as well as other committees charged with checking and balancing these sorts of abuses, should now ask those questions. And if Rove claims executive privilege, the response should be that no president has the authority to convey upon a present -- or former -- aide the right to use an executive position in a secretive campaign to discredit a critic of the administration.

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John Nichols' new 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.'"

More on Sheehan v Pelosi; Bush Dogs of War

Readers made some good points about my post questioning the wisdom of Cindy Sheehan's decision to run to Congress against Nancy Pelosi. Really, what's the harm? I think my problem wasn't so much with this particular race per se as with the general penchant of the left for the electoral politics of theatre: runs that have no hope of success by people who have no serious interest in being in government. I know that sounds terribly square. But beyond generating (maybe) a few headlines and offering likeminded voters a chance to raise a fist in the air, what is achieved? Is an organization built? is the ground prepared for a more powerful bid next time? Are ideas put into the political discourse that weren't there before? Is the winner pushed to the left? Too often, in fact almost always, the answer to these questions is no.

If Cindy Sheehan wants to make an anti-war gesture, running against Nancy Pelosi is one way to do it, so good luck to her. Still, to me, it would make more sense for Iraq war opponents to run where they have a chance to win, and against a more reprehensible congressperson, too. Chris Bowers at openleft.com has compiled a list of the 38 Democratic congresspeople -- he calls them Bush Dogs -- who voted with the Republicans both on funding the Iraq war and on warrantless wiretapping.

Some of these got significant Netroots support in 2006 ( I donated on line to Stephanie Herseth (SD) --one of only two women on the list, I'm happy to report). That's more than a little depressing in view of the large claims being made for the blogosphere as representing a whole new way of doing politics. Obviously the " just elect Democrats" philosophy has its limits, if it means putting in office Democrats who vote with the Bush Administration on these crucial foreign policy and civil liberties issues , and who will likely vote for God knows whatever awful legislation emanates from the White House next.

Some of these Bush Dogs come from heavily Republican districts, but Bowers identifies 16 on the list as vulnerable to pressure, including a threatened or real primary challenge . If antiwar activists want to take the fight to the ballot box, Bowers' list is a good place to start.

How Super Was Our Power Anyway?

Pick up the paper any day and you'll find tiny straws in the wind (or headlines inside the fold) reflecting the seeping away of American power. The President of the planet's "sole superpower" and his top diplomats and commanders have been denouncing Iran for months as the evil hand behind American disaster in Iraq as well as Afghanistan.

So imagine, when President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan arrived in Washington a couple of weeks back and promptly described Iran as "a helper and a solution" for his country, even as President Bush insisted in his presence: "I would be very cautious about whether or not the Iranian influence in Afghanistan is a positive force." At almost the same moment, Iraq's embattled Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki paid an official visit to Iran, undoubtedly looking for support in case the U.S. turned on his government. Maliki "held hands" with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, met with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini, and called for cooperation. In response, all President Bush could do was issue a vague threat: "I will have to have a heart to heart with my friend, the prime minister, because I don't believe [the Iranians] are constructive.... My message to him is, when we catch you playing a non-constructive role, there will be a price to pay." (Later, a National Security Council spokesman had to offer a correction, insisting the threat was aimed only at Iran, not Maliki.) Then, to add insult to injury, just a week after Bush and Karzai met in Washington, Ahmadinejad headed for Kabul with a high-ranking Iranian delegation to pay his respects to the Afghan president "in open defiance of Washington's wishes." Think slap in the puss.

What made this little regional diplomatic dance all the more curious was the fact that Karzai and Maliki are such weak (and weakening) American-backed leaders -- Maliki of a government in chaos whose purview hardly extends beyond the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, and Karzai, sometimes dubbed the "mayor of Kabul," as head of a government visibly losing control over even the modest areas it had ruled. In another age, each would have been dubbed an American "puppet" and yet, here they were, defying an American president in search of support from a hated regional power on whose curbing Bush has staked what's left of his presidency.

Meanwhile, the first joint Sino-Russian "military exercise" on Russian soil (witnessed by Chinese President Hu Jintao and Russian President Vladimir Putin) had barely ended when Putin announced late last week, not from Russia but from the former Central Asian soviet socialist republic of Kazakhstan, that "regular long-range air patrols that ended after the Soviet Union collapsed" would now be resumed--and not just over Russian air space either. The planes in these patrols are nuclear-armed and "capable of striking targets deep inside the United States." Think of this as one way in which the Russian President, thoroughly irritated with the Bush administration's decision to implant elements of an American anti-missile system in Poland and the Czech Republic, was using military symbolism to reassert his country's right to Great Power status -- a status earned in recent years, thanks to its enormous energy reserves. All a State Department official could say in response was: "If Russia feels as though they want to take some of these old aircraft out of mothballs and get them flying again, that's their decision."

Meanwhile, halfway across the globe, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's government was reportedly on the verge of announcing a new deal with Putin's Russia. Having already purchased Russian jets, helicopters, and whole plants to build Kalashnikov assault rifles (in the face of an embargo on American arms), it would now buy 5,000 advanced Dragunov sniper rifles. Again the deploring sounds from Washington were remarkably mild, though the frustration level is obviously high.

When it comes to discovering regular signs like these of the visible decline of American global power, you can actually do this exercise yourself. Just keep an eye on your daily paper--or start by checking out the latest sweeping piece, "America on the Downward Slope," by Middle Eastern expert Dilip Hiro, most recently author of Blood of the Earth, The Battle for the World's Vanishing Oil Resources. "When viewed globally and in the great stretch of history," he concludes, "the notion of American exceptionalism that drove the neoconservatives to proclaim the Project for the New American Century in the late 20th century--adopted so wholeheartedly by the Bush administration in this one--is nothing new.... No superpower in modern times has maintained its supremacy for more than several generations. And, however exceptional its leaders may have thought themselves, the United States, already clearly past its zenith, has no chance of becoming an exception to this age-old pattern of history."

In 2002, the Bush administration issued its National Security Strategy of the United States of America, a document of ultimate hubris in which its strategists essentially claimed that the U.S. was planning to remain the global superpower for an eternity. They were going to feed the Pentagon so much money that it would be bulked up into the distant future--and so, capable of suppressing any potential superpower or bloc of powers that might emerge. How long ago that seems. With the black hole of Iraq sucking all Bush administration efforts into its vortex, much of the globe has, it appears, been quietly released to enhance its power at the expense of the sole superpower, now sliding down that slippery slope.

Obama Attacked for Being Right About Afghanistan

The Republican National Committee has for some time now made itself the mouthpiece for extreme pro-war rhetoric, despite the fact that substantial numbers of Republicans – some of whom sit in Congress – oppose the Bush-Cheney administration's misguided approach to the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. In this context, the RNC spends most of its time attacking Democrats who express sentiments no more radical than those mentioned by mainstream Republicans.

The current target of the RNC's comically over-the-top wrath is U.S. Senator Barack Obama, the Illinois Democrat who is a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The RNC is furious with Obama for pointing out the obvious with regard to the worst excesses of the Afghanistan occupation.

Obama recently said of that occupation: "We've got to get the job done there and that requires us to have enough troops so that we're not just air-raiding villages and killing civilians, which is causing enormous pressure over there."

This is hardly a militant viewpoint. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly expressed shock and anger at the U.S. bombing of villages and the killing of civilians. "While the people of Afghanistan stand firmly with the international community in their effort to defeat terrorism," Karzai said after one particularly horrific incident in which 16 civilians were killed and dozens or women and children were injured, "it must be ensured that civilians are not affected during the operations."

Karzai has gone so far as to summon the commander of the coalition forces in Afghanistan to his office in order to deliver a demand that "incidents (bombing raids that kill civilians) must not be repeated."

Unfortunately, as Karzai made clear during his recent visit to the U.S., the crisis continues. And, as a result, resentment regarding the U.S. occupation is rising among the people of Afghanistan. That creates even greater danger for U.S. troops on the ground.

Obama is highlighting this very real concern at a time when it may still be possible to take steps to address it. He may not be arguing for the best approach – wiser analysts of the turbulent region dispute the notion that sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan is the answer – but there is no question that his references to air-raiding villages and killing civilians comes in the context of an ongoing and important diplomatic discussion.

No reasonable observer could miss Obama's point: That the United States government should be concerned about the mounting civilian death toll in Afghanistan -- and about the sense on the part of Afghan leaders and citizens that more could be done by our military to prevent those deaths -- for both humanitarian and political reasons.

Yet, the RNC has ginned up its considerable propaganda machine – with predictable echoes from party apparatchiks in the media – to suggest that Obama's statement is at best naïve and at worst an affront to U.S. troops and the war or terror.

"Obama's Assessment Of U.S Troop Efforts In War On Terror Demonstrates His Extreme Careless And Inexperienced Nature," screams the latest of several memos attacking the senator that have been distributed to major media outlets under the guise of an "RNC Research Briefing."

The "briefing" complains that: "Inexperienced Obama Fails To Acknowledge Major Accomplishments In Afghanistan."

Suggesting that a well-regarded member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who has lived abroad, earned international acclaim for his writing and speaking on global issues and traveled extensively in regions of the world rarely visited by presidential candidates is "inexperienced" is ridiculous rhetoric on the part of the RNC. But the Republican briefers are right about one thing: Obama did fail to acknowledge all the "accomplishments" of the Bush-Cheney administration in Afghanistan.

The Illinois senator made no mention, for instance, of the friendly-fire killing U.S. Army Corporal Pat Tillman in Afghanistan and the ambitious efforts of military commanders and their civilian counterparts to portray that death as the result of an enemy attack – in an apparent effort to use the former pro-football player's service to gin up support for the occupation and to encourage military recruitment efforts.

This "accomplishment" is now the subject of a congressional inquiry that recently heard Tillman's brother, Kevin, himself a veteran, say of the cover-up: "The deception surrounding this case was an insult to the family: but more importantly, its primary purpose was to deceive a whole nation."

As the RNC attacks on Obama illustrate, efforts to deceive the whole nation continue.

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John Nichols' new 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.'"

The Enormous Cost of War

The National Priorities Project (NPP), a research organization that analyzes and clarifies federal data so that people can understand how their tax dollars are spent, continues to be an invaluable resource when it comes to translating the costs of the Iraq War.

$456 billion has now been appropriated for the war through September 30, and that's a difficult number to get a handle on. But as I've written previously (here and here), NPP spells out exactly what every state and district has paid towards this catastrophe and describes the spending priorities that could have been met with those same resources.

For example, $456 billion could have provided over 48 million children with health care coverage for the length of the War; built 3.5 million affordable housing units; 45,800 elementary schools; hired 8 million additional public school teachers for a year; paid for nearly 60 million kids to attend Head Start; or awarded 22 million 4-year scholarships at public universities. Instead, we find our nation speeding towards what Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz estimated as a final price tag – somewhere between $1 trillion and $2 trillion.

But the hope is that as Americans become more aware of the costs of this war in treasure (as well as lives), constituents will increasingly pressure their representatives to break with the President and end this tragic course. That's why other antiwar groups are beginning to make good use of NPP's data too.

This week, MoveOn.org released its own report on the cost of the Iraq war relying exclusively on NPP's cost of war information and trade-off data by state and congressional district. MoveOn will use this information as the basis for actions in 160 cities, educating constituents and pressuring Members of Congress to end the War.

Also throughout this week, USAction Education Fund is releasing reports outlining the damage done to 25 states by the "upside-down priorities of the Bush administration and previous, Republican-led Congresses," and what the current Congress is trying to do to repair that damage. The report uses NPP's data on the cost of the Iraq war, and its analysis of how Congress' proposed spending bills would impact each congressional district. The USAction Education Fund report will be used to urge members of Congress to override President Bush's threatened vetoes of modest spending increases in all domestic programs, from children's health care to the Food Stamp Program.

In a released statement, NPP executive director Greg Speeter said: "Our information is all about giving people what they need to hold their Congresspeople accountable for their actions. We're pleased to see our data making that possible in such coordinated and widespread efforts."

And coordinated, widespread efforts are exactly what we need to bring an end to this war.