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The Bush Administration as Cold Warriors in a Strange Land

They came in as unreformed Cold Warriors, only lacking a cold war -- and looking for an enemy: a Russia to roll back even further; rogue states like Saddam's rickety dictatorship to smash. They were still in the old fight, eager to make sure that the "Evil Empire," already long down for the count, would remain prostrate forever; eager to ensure that any new evil empire like, say, China's would never be able to stand tall enough to be a challenge. They saw opportunities to move into areas previously beyond the reach of American imperial power like the former SSRs of the Soviet Union in Central Asia, which just happened to be sitting on potentially fabulous undeveloped energy fields; or farther into the even more fabulously energy-rich Middle East, where Saddam's Iraq, planted atop the planet's third largest reserves of petroleum, seemed so ready for a fall -- with other states in the region visibly not far behind.

It looked like it would be a coming-out party for one--the debutante ball of the season. It would be, in fact, like the Cold War without the Soviet Union. What a blast! And they could still put their energies into their fabulously expensive, ever-misfiring anti-missile system, a subject they regularly focused on from January 2000 until September 10, 2001.

They were Cold Warriors in search of an enemy--just not the one they got. When the Clintonistas, on their way out of the White House, warned them about al Qaeda, they paid next to no attention. Non-state actors were for wusses. When the CIA carefully presented the President with a one-page, knock-your-socks-off warning on August 6, 2001 that had the screaming headline, "Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S.," they ignored it. Bush and his top officials were, as it happened, strangely adrift until September 11, 2001; then, they were panicked and terrified -- until they realized that their moment had come to hijack the plane of state; so they clambered aboard, and like the Cold Warriors they were, went after Saddam. In the process, they crashed that plane of state into Iraq, creating a classic Cold War disaster (which is why Vietnam analogies always come to mind) in another era. No small trick.

Chalmers Johnson was himself once a Cold Warrior. Unlike the top officials of the Bush administration, however, he retained a remarkably flexible mind. He also had a striking ability to see the world as it actually was--and a prescient vision of what was to come. He wrote the near-prophetic and now-classic book, Blowback, published well before the attacks of 9/11, and then followed it up with an anatomy of the U.S. military's empire of bases, The Sorrows of Empire, and finally, to end his Blowback Trilogy, a vivid recipe for American catastrophe, Nemesis: The Fall of the American Republic. All three are indispensable volumes in any reasonable post-9/11 library.

Recently, at Tomdispatch.com, he reviewed a little noted recent book, The Matador's Cape, America's Reckless Response to Terror by law professor Stephen Holmes, which is, he writes, "a powerful... survey of what we think we understand about the 9/11 attacks -- and how and why the United States has magnified many times over the initial damage caused by the terrorists."

Think of this as a meta-review--because Holmes covers a range of the major books, especially by neocon actors, in this drama, Johnson is able to explore 12 books and 12 questions for our post-9/11 moment, ranging from "Did Islamic religious extremism cause 9/11?" to "Why did American military preeminence breed delusions of omnipotence?" and "How was the Iraq war lost?"

Looking over the littered landscape left by the Bush administration's Cold Warriors manqué, Johnson concludes:

 

"There is, I believe, only one solution to the crisis we face. The American people must make the decision to dismantle both the empire that has been created in their name and the huge, still growing military establishment that undergirds it. It is a task at least comparable to that undertaken by the British government when, after World War II, it liquidated the British Empire. By doing so, Britain avoided the fate of the Roman Republic -- becoming a domestic tyranny and losing its democracy, as would have been required if it had continued to try to dominate much of the world by force. To take up these subjects, however, moves the discussion into largely unexplored territory. For now, Holmes has done a wonderful job of clearing the underbrush and preparing the way for the public to address this more or less taboo subject."

 

 

Plamegate Finale: We Were Right; They Were Wrong

Four and a half years ago, after reading the Robert Novak column that outed Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA operative specializing in counter-proliferation work, I wrote an article in this space noting that this particular leak from Bush administration officials might have been a violation of a federal law prohibiting government officials from disclosing information about clandestine intelligence officers and (perhaps worse) might have harmed national security by exposing anti-WMD operations. That piece was the first to identify the leak as a possible White House crime and the first to characterize the leak as evidence that within the Bush administration political expedience trumped national security.

The column drew about 100,000 visitors to this website in a day or so. And--fairly or not--it's been cited by some as the event that triggered the Plame hullabaloo. I doubt that the column prompted the investigation eventually conducted by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, for I assume that had my column not appeared the CIA still would have asked the Justice Department to investigate the leak as a possible crime. But now that Fitzgerald's investigation is long done, the Scooter Libby spin-off is over (thanks to George W. Bush's total commutation of Libby's sentence), and Valerie Wilson has finally published her account, it seems a good time to say, I was right. And to add, where's the apology?

From the start, neocons and conservative backers of the war dismissed the Plame leak and subsequent scandal as a big nothing. Some even claimed that somehow former Ambassador Joseph Wilson and I had cooked up the episode to ensnare the White House. (Oh, to be so devilishly clever--and to be so competent.) But these attempts to belittle the affair (and to belittle Valerie Wilson) were based on nothing but baseless spin. As was--no coincidence--the Iraq war. In fact, the Wilson imbroglio was something of a proxy war for the debate over the war itself. In the summer of 2003, when the Plame affair broke, those in and out of government who had misled the nation into the war saw the need to spin their way out of the Wilson controversy in order to protect the false sales pitch they had used to win public support for the invasion of Iraq.

First they attacked Joe Wilson when he disclosed that he had gone to Niger in February 2002 for the CIA and had reported back that the allegation Saddam Hussein had been uranium-shopping there was highly dubious. Then when Valerie Wilson's CIA identity was exposed during the get-Wilson campaign, they pooh-poohed the leak. They subsequently spent years doing so. Here's a brief list of Plame attacks I've published before:

* On September 29, 2003, former Republican Party spokesman Clifford May wrote that the July 14, 2003 Robert Novak column that disclosed Valerie Wilson's CIA connection "wasn't news to me. I had been told that--but not by anyone working in the White House. Rather, I learned it from someone who formerly worked in the government and he mentioned it in an offhand manner, leading me to infer it was something that insiders were well aware of."

* On September 30, 2003, National Review writer Jonah Goldberg huffed, "Wilson's wife is a desk jockey and much of the Washington cocktail circuit knew that already."

* On October 1, 2003, Novak wrote, "How big a secret was it? It was well known around Washington that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA....[A]n unofficial source at the agency says she has been an analyst, not in covert operations."

* On July 17, 2005, Republican Representative Roy Blunt, then the House majority leader, said on Face the Nation, "This was a job that the ambassador's wife had that she went to every day. It was a desk job. I think many people in Washington understood that her employment was at the CIA, and she went to that office every day."

* On February 18, 2007, as the Libby trial was under way, Republican lawyer/operative Victoria Toensing asserted in The Washington Post, "Plame was not covert."

* In his recently published memoirs, Novak wrote of Valerie Wilson, "She was not involved in clandestine activities. Instead, each day she went to CIA headquarters in Langley where she worked on arms proliferation."

A year ago, in our book, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, Michael Isikoff and I disclosed for the first time that Valerie Wilson was operations chief at the Joint Task Force on Iraq of the Counterproliferation Division of the CIA's clandestine operations directorate. She was no paper-pusher or analyst, as Novak and others had said. She was in charge of covert operations on a critical front. (Isikoff and I detailed some of her work in the book.) As part of her job, she traveled overseas under cover. CBS News recently reported that it had confirmed she had also worked on operations designed to prevent Iran from obtaining or developing nuclear weapons. Ironic? Ask Dick Cheney.

And Valerie Wilson was not known about Washington as a spy. Though Cliff May has made this argument, in the years since the Novak column appeared, no one in Washington has come forward to say, "Oh yes, I knew about her before Novak outed her." In fact, Valerie Wilson was a mid-level, career CIA officer--there must be hundreds, if not thousands--and such people are (to be frank) not usually on the radar screen of Washington insiders. They are not known regulars on the D.C. cocktail circuit, such as it is. Ask Sally Quinn.

For her part, Valerie Wilson, who left the CIA at the end of 2005, has only recently been able to challenge the purposefully misleading descriptions of her CIA tenure. Appearing before the House government oversight and reform committee in March, she testified the she was a "covert officer" who had helped to "manage and run operations." She said that prior to the Iraq invasion she had "raced to discover intelligence" on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. "I also traveled to foreign countries on secret missions," she said under oath, "to find vital intelligence." She noted that she could "count on one hand" the number of people outside the CIA who knew of her spy work.

On Sunday, as she launched her new book, Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House, she appeared on 60 Minutes and repeated her case. Though the CIA has absurdly prevented her from acknowledging that she worked for the agency prior to 2002--she started there in 1985--Wilson told Katie Couric, "Our mission was to make sure that the bad guys basically did not get nuclear weapons." After her name appeared in the Novak column, she said, "I can tell you, all the intelligence services in the world that morning were running my name through their databases to see, 'Did anyone by this name come in the country? When? Do we know anything about it? Where did she stay? Well, who did she see?'...It puts in danger, if not shuts down, the operations that I had worked on."

What damage was actually done by the leak remains a secret. On 60 Minutes, Valerie Wilson said a damage assessment was conducted by the CIA but that she never saw it. She added, "I certainly didn't reach out to my old assets and ask them how they're doing, although I would have liked to have." That damage report has not been leaked. Nor has it been a subject of congressional interest--as far as one can publicly tell. in 2003, the Democrats in Congress who cared about the Plame leak were obsessed with calling for the appointment of a special prosecutor. That fixation proved to be a mistake. A special prosecutor could only focus on criminal matters and could only disclose information necessary for a prosecution--rules that Patrick Fitzgerald would stick by. The Democrats never pushed for a congressional investigation that could have examined (and perhaps made public, even if in a limited fashion) key issues in the case, such as the consequences of the leak. Valerie Wilson said to Couric that the damage was "serious." The public ought to know if this is so. (When I once asked Senator Jay Rockefeller, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, if he had any intention of probing the Plame leak, he said he no interest in doing so.)

In trying to spin their way out of the CIA leak mess, the neocon gang made much of the fact (again, first revealed by Isikoff and me) that Richard Armitage, who was the No. 2 at the State Department and a neocon-hating Iraq war skeptic, was the administration official who initially told Novak that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA. But the Plamegate deniers often ignore the inconvenient truth that White House aide Karl Rove--during the White House campaign to undermine Joe Wilson--confirmed this classified information for Novak and also passed the same leak to Matt Cooper, then of Time. (It was only because Cooper's editors at the newsmagazine did not care about Wilson's wife that Novak published the leak first.) Libby and White House press secretary Ari Fleischer also shared information about Wilson's wife and her CIA connection with reporters. This was all part of the White House effort to tarnish Wilson by making it seem as if his trip to Niger had been nothing but a nepotistic junket. And as testimony and documents presented at the Libby trial showed, Vice President Cheney had been driving the pushback effort and had early on learned about Valerie Wilson's CIA employment and then conveyed that information to Libby.

Yes, this was a case of putting politics (getting Joe Wilson) ahead of national security concerns (such as protecting the identity and operations of a CIA officer working the WMD beat).

It is true that at the end of the day, no one was charged with a crime for leaking information on Valerie Wilson. Patrick Fitzgerald decided that he could not prove in court--as he would have to under the law--that the leakers knew that Valerie Wilson was a covert officer. But Fitzgerald did pursue Libby and Rove for possibly lying to FBI agents and the grand jury investigating the leak. He nabbed Libby but, after much consideration, opted not to indict Rove.

Still, Rove was caught in a lie. Toward the start of the Plame affair, the White House declared that Rove was not involved in the leak, and Bush indicated that anyone who had leaked classified information would be dismissed. But the White House statement regarding Rove was false (probably because Rove had misled White House press secretary Scott McClellan). Bush's promise was false, too, for Rove remained Bush's master strategist even after Isikoff published an email showing that Rove had leaked classified information about Valerie Wilson to Cooper.

The bottom line: this episode demonstrated that the Bush White House was not honest (the vice president's chief of staff was even convicted of lying to law enforcement officials), that top Bush officials had risked national security for partisan gain, and that White House champions outside the government would eagerly hurl false accusations to defend the administration.

So is anyone apologizing? For ruining Valerie Wilson's career? For perhaps endangering operations and agents? For lying about the leak? For misleading the public about Rove's role? For placing spin above the truth? Armitage did apologize (via a media interview) to the Wilsons. But no one else involved has. And no one--not Bush, not Cheney, not their aides, not their neocon confederates--has admitted any wrongdoing in this saga.

It's like the war: false statements, false cover stories, and failure to concede the errors in judgment and action that have caused harm to national security. But the meta-narrative of Bush and his neoconservative allies is one of no apology, no surrender. They say and do what they must to shield themselves from the consequences of their actions. Reality be damned. What matters is what they can get away with. In the case of Valerie Plame Wilson, they did escape retribution. In the larger case of the Iraq war, they are still hoping to.

******

A FAREWELL: This is my last "Capital Games" article for The Nation. After twenty years of representing The Nation in Washington--and five years of writing this web column--I am leaving the magazine to become chief of Mother Jones' new seven-person Washington bureau. It's been an honor to be part of America's oldest political weekly and to write for you. I hope you continue to read and support The Nation--and that you also check out the work I do for Mother Jones. You can read my farewell letter to The Nation here. And a reminder: I will continue to blog at www.davidcorn.com, which is about to become part of an expanded and redesigned CQ.com. Thank you for all the clicks.

FCC Promotes Media Monopolies

As my friend and colleague John Nichols wrote last week, "Bush's chairman of the Federal Communications Commission has initiated a scheme to radically rewrite media ownership rules so that one corporation can own the daily newspapers, the weekly 'alternative' newspaper, the city magazine, suburban publications, the eight largest radio stations, the dominant broadcast and cable television stations, popular internet news and calendar sites, billboards and concert halls in even the largest American city."

Essentially, Martin wants to get rid of the cross-ownership ban, which has been on the books in this country since 1975. It's a rule that prevents any one company from owning and operating both a newspaper and a broadcast television station in the same town. The idea that we've had in this country for thirty-some years, informed by the ideas of the Founding Fathers, is that it would be unhealthy for one corporation to control all of the most popular outlets for news and information in a given area. That would be bad for democracy. Apparently Kevin Martin doesn't think that way.

FCC Commissioner Martin's latest attempt to curb as much diversity and democracy from the nation's media as possible is both a mogul's dream and a citizen's nightmare. In 2003 Martin's predecessor Michael Powell tried to do the same thing (with Martin voting with him) but was stymied by a cross-partisan grassroots uprising that saw more than three million citizens, including many Nation readers, protest the FCC and Congress and force the monopolizers back on their feet. But they're back and a renewed and reinvigorated citizens' movement is the only thing that can stop them again. Encouragingly, there are already legislative allies in the unlikely tandem of Democrat Byron Dorgan and Republican Trent Lott. "We do not believe the commission has adequately studied the impact of media consolidation on local programming," the two Senators, a North Dakota Democrat, and a Mississippi Republican, said last Thursday in a letter to Martin. "The FCC should not rush forward and repeat mistakes of the past."

The media reform group Free Press has been leading the opposition with the formidable help of two of the five FCC commissioners, Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein. Go to the Free Press Action Center and let your elected reps know that Congress should hold hearings on media ownership before any decision is made; file a comment before the FCC and write to your local paper and website. Free Press is also hosting live online chats with both dissident Commissioners--Adelstein takes questions tonight, October 22, at 8 pm EST and Copps next Monday, October 29 at 7 pm EST. Just click here to join the conversation.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Rebecca Solnit, as usual, offers plenty of food for thought in her essay, "Finding Time." As often with Solnit, I was both impressed by her insight, and impatient of her tendency to draw tenuous connections to all her pet issues/peeves, irrespective of the subject at hand.

Who can resist a piece that begins, "The four horsemen of my apocalypse are called Efficiency, Convenience, Profitability, and Security, and in their names, crimes against poetry, pleasure, sociability, and the very largeness of the world are daily, hourly, constantly carried out. These marauding horsemen are deployed by technophiles, advertisers, and profiteers to assault the nameless pleasures and meanings that knit together our lives and expand our horizons."

Solnit offers some wonderful insights into the ways in which our lives are shaped by the tyrannical regimen of these four values, but the only downside is that much of it leads inexorably to a litany of the standard complaints against automobiles, commerce, McMansions, consumerism etc. There's even the obligatory admiring nod to those darned Europeans.

The result is more sermon than opinion journalism. But as I said before, Solnit always makes it worth your while.

Pelosi's Stark Rebuke

It's not suprising that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi criticized 18-term Congressman Pete Stark for his heartfelt and emotional comments about the Republican's failure to override Bush's veto of S-CHIP. In a blog last week, I predicted that Pelosi would do just that.

Still, it's downright disappointing. Maybe the DCCC should bring on board MSNBC's feisty Keith Olbermann to give it some backbone. I think Olbermann got it right when he called Stark's remarks "refreshing."

The way Pelosi turned on Stark is bound to turn people off of politics--which are already so canned and scripted, and devoid of human feeling and emotion. Look what happens to someone decent like Pete Stark, who steps out of the mold to express his anger and passion about what he believes, sincerely, is being doing to harm our kids.

Can't you just see the Democratic consultants going berserk after Stark said what he did--even if it was in the heat of the moment and debate. Trouble alerts issued in DC--someone speaks his heart and mind! Can't you see the consultants telling party chieftains--Distance Yourself: This will hurt you in '08. Then you have the right-wing, anger-fomenting media machine ripping into full gear. Hannity, Limbaugh, Ingraham, Malkin, O'Reilly and ilk salivating and bloviating and distracting attention from the real story.

That is, what is despicable and beneath contempt are not Stark's words but this administration's assault on kids. Speaker Pelosi stated that she was worried about how her longtime congressional ally's words, "distracted from the seriousness of the subject at hand--providing health care for America's children."

With all due respect, I think the Speaker should be more worried about how Republicans' assault on kids' health and wellbeing begins at home and extends to Iraq. I think she might have issued a tough and humane statement, calling on all to stop wasting time on attacking people like Pete Stark-- whose emotional words reflects real concern and care for the future of this nation-- and start providing healthcare for all, including our beloved kids, and ending a war that is killing US men and women, thousands of Iraqis, stretching our military to breaking point and undermining our security.

Rudy, Romney Pray For Acceptance From Religious Right

In a speech before 2,000 "Value Voters" today, Rudy Giuliani decided to cherry-pick from his past instead of entirely ignoring it. Giuliani's decision to draw upon his time as New York Mayor had some success though it was a less crowd-pleasing approach than Mitt Romney, who last night gave little indication he used to be Massachusetts Governor.

The usually bellicose Giuliani spoke in soothing, conciliatory tones to an audience that vehemently disagrees with his pro-choice, gay-rights positions. "We don't lose trust with our political leaders when they're not perfect," Giuliani reasoned. "We lose trust when they're dishonest." And he gave a long explanation of Christianity as a "religion of inclusion."

The characterization was met with silence. Giuliani failed to get the crowd going until he recalled kicking out pornographers in Times Square. Indeed, Giuliani's speech seemed to reveal more about the narrow set of issues of deep importance to summit attendees than the candidate himself. Conservative but not explicitly Christian conservative subjects like welfare reform and law enforcement were met with just polite applause.

Even Giuliani's familiar references to 9/11 and Reagan did not appear to fully satiate the appetite of values voters, though he can't be accused of not trying. "Our goal in the overall terrorists war on us is the same goal that Ronald Reagan had for the Cold War," Giuliani prefaced, before quoting Reagan: "'They lose, we win'"

Romney played better to the crowd. He won over the audience with lines like, "what takes place in your house is more important than what happens in the White House." But "your house," Romney solemnly warned, is under threat by the "modern plague of internet pornography" which the candidate would deal with by giving internet pornographers long prison sentences and "an ankle bracelet if they ever got out."

Romney spoke of broad cultural conservative values and only mentioned his specific religion in passing. "I imagine one or two of you have heard I'm Mormon," he quipped, before giving another paean to American exceptionalism. Romney's pandering may have gotten more applause lines, but Giuliani's speech hardly bombed and he was more consistent with past behavior and rhetoric. In the long run, Rudy may be closer to discovering how to please voters with, and without, values.

Moyers/Scahill Expose Blackwater

Tonight, October 19, at 9:00pm (EST) on PBS, Bill Moyers will interview Nation Institute Fellow Jeremy Scahill, author of the national bestseller Blackwater (Nation Books) on the implications of the use of private contractors to fight alongside the US military in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond. Scahill will also discuss the media's response to the recent charm offensive by Erik Prince, the Founder and CEO of Blackwater, who has been accorded extremely generous TV coverage of late, especially on the Charlie Rose Show and Sixty Minutes.

The show will be re-broadcast on Sunday, October 21 at 7PM (EST). Check the website for Bill Moyer's Journal for more info. Scahill, more any one other individual, has been responsible for raising awareness of the dramatic role of private security contractors in Iraq and beyond. So read Scahill's reporting on Blackwater for The Nation and check out Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army for the back-story of the Bush Administration's Praetorian Guard for the war on terror.

One of the major issues relating to contractors like Blackwater is that their employees remain currently out of the reach of both Iraqi and US law. So they truly operate with impunity. In response to this absurd immunity and the recent violent outbursts by Blackwater contractors in Iraq, the House has overwhelmingly passed a bill that would put contractors hired for overseas missions under the jurisdiction of US law. Now the Senate will vote on the bill. The new progressive social-networking site, Change.org, has put out an alert urging people to implore their Senators to vote in favor of accountability for contractors.

Passage of the bill would improve the situation but at a possibly dangerous cost--that of institutionalizing the use of private military contractors in US conflicts. But I view the bill as a useful band-aid, a first step, and one that may help underscore the dangers of privatizing war.

Click here if you want to contact your Senator on this issue and use the comments fields below to let us know how you feel about these Congressional efforts to impose accountability on private military contractors.

Hillary's Chinatown Express

The Los Angeles Times ran an eyebrow-raising story this morning about how Hillary Clinton is raising money from a highly unlikely source: New York's Chinatown.

"Dishwashers, waiters and others whose jobs and dilapidated home addresses seem to make them unpromising targets for political fundraisers are pouring $1,000 and $2,000 contributions into Clinton's campaign treasury," the paper reports. "In April, a single fundraiser in an area long known for its gritty urban poverty yielded a whopping $380,000."

According to the article, powerful Chinese neighborhood associations pushed residents to donate to the Clinton camp. The source of many of these donations remains a mystery.

 

The Times examined the cases of more than 150 donors who provided checks to Clinton after fundraising events geared to the Chinese community. One-third of those donors could not be found using property, telephone or business records. Most have not registered to vote, according to public records.

 

 

Several dozen were described in financial reports as holding jobs -- including dishwasher, server or chef--that would normally make it difficult to donate amounts ranging from $500 to the legal maximum of $2,300 per election.

 

The Clinton campaign's response hardly puts the matter to rest. "In this instance, our own compliance process flagged a number of questionable donations and took the appropriate steps to be sure they were legally given," said Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson. "In cases where we couldn't confirm that, the money was returned."

The Edwards campaign was swift to react. "Clinton campaign contributions are raising eyebrows again," said Edward campaign manager David Bonior. "Many of their donors are not even registered to vote, and at least one denied even making any contribution at all."

The article--and the Clinton reaction--raises more questions than answers. Did officials in Chinatown invent the names and identities of campaign donors? If so, why? How involved was Chung Seto, Clinton's liaison to the Asian community and a former executive director of the New York State Democratic Party? How did the Clinton campaign verify the source of these donations? How many potentially illegal donations were eventually returned?

"[Expletive] the Jews. They Didn't Vote for Us Anyway"

Has George Bush ever been to a bar mitzvah or eaten a blintz? Rudy Giuliani has -- dozens of times.

The Bush family has been never been very popular with Jews, but Giuliani won a big majority of the Jewish vote, in the world's biggest Jewish city, both times he ran for mayor. He's the Republican front runner; if he wins the nomination, could the Republican relationship to Jewish voters be transformed? That question lurked in the background when Giuliani and other GOP candidates spoke earlier this week in Washington at a forum sponsored by the Republican Jewish Coalition.

The traditional Republican stance was expressed eloquently back in 1992, when James Baker, at the time Secretary of State to President George H. W. Bush, said "[Expletive] the Jews. They didn't vote for us anyway."

Baker had his facts right: Bush Senior got only 11 per cent of the Jewish vote that year. Bill Clinton got about 80 per cent of the Jewish vote in both 1992 and 1996. Al Gore got the same in 2000. Even John Kerry got 76 of the Jewish vote in 2004.

But could that pattern change if Giuliani is the candidate in 2008? He got two-thirds of the Jewish vote in New York City when he ran against Democratic David Dinkins. He got three-quarters of the Jewish vote when he ran for reelection against Ruth Messinger, herself Jewish.

The Bush family was always more pro-Arab, especially pro-Saudi, than they were pro-Israel. Back in 1992, Baker was arguing for a tougher policy with Israel, pressing them to settle with the Palestinians. He reiterated that position last year in the Baker-Hamilton report, also known as the Iraq Study Group report, which argued we could weaken the appeal of Islamic terrorism by creating a viable Palestinian state, returning the Golan Heights to Syria, and negotiating with Iran.

Rudy is emphatically not that kind of Republican. He made that perfectly clear in his pitch at the Republican Jewish Coalition. As Maureen Dowd reported in the New York Times, he reminded listeners that he refused to accept a $10 million check for 9/11 families from the Saudi prince who urged America to "adopt a more balanced stance toward the Palestinian cause." He reminded listeners that he threw Yasser Arafat out of a Lincoln Center concert held in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations.

Giuliani's pitch to Jews is all about Israel. "If I'm president," he said this week, "I'm not going to let any man destroy Israel"--just in case you were wondering about that. He draws an analogy between the situation in Iraq and Gaza: if we pull out of Iraq, he says, Iraq will end up looking like Gaza after the Israelis pulled out. It will become another base for terrorists – but one that is much bigger. And of course he talks about Hitler: "If Europe had confronted Hitler at an earlier stage," he said, "there would have been millions and millions of lives saved." That's why he would refuse to negotiate with today's Hitler, located in Iran.

Nevertheless it's unlikely that any Republican candidate, even Giuliani, will win Jewish votes away from the Democrats because of their positions on Israel. First of all, the Democratic candidate will be 100 per cent "pro-Israel" (meaning they support the parties on the Israeli right).

Secondly, only a handful of Jews vote on the basis of candidates' "support for Israel." "Jewish voters look like other voters with high levels of education," says Ira Foreman, co-editor of Jews in American Politics, writing in the Israeli daily Haaretz. The main difference is that they are more liberal: "Jews place more emphasis on civil liberties than their non-Jewish counterparts. Jews support abortion rights at higher levels than other Americans. Jews support the concept of separation of church and state. Jews support gay marriage and civil unions at higher levels than non-Jews."

Finally, when Giuliani won those Jewish majorities in New York City, the city was in a steep economic decline, the South Bronx was burning, the crack epidemic seemed unstoppable. Rudy's tough-guy stance worked in that context, but the country has different concerns today. In 2008, the great majority of Jews once again will vote for the Democrat, even if the Republican is Rudy.