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Ending Folly in Iraq

A recent CBS News poll reveals that over 70 percent of Americans believe President Bush should obtain congressional authorization before escalating the war in Iraq. And a new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds that the public trusts congressional Democrats over Bush to handle Iraq by nearly a two-to-one margin, and that 59 percent of Americans – including over 25 percent of Republicans – want Congress to block the President's escalation plan.

All of this begs the question: what is Congress going to do about it?

According to the New York Times, White House officials are "far more concerned about threats from Congressional Democrats to take aim at spending on the president's new plan" than any non-binding, bipartisan resolution opposing escalation.

Nevertheless, there are some Democrats – like Senator Joseph Biden, Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – who have deluded themselves into thinking that words alone will stop Bush from pursuing his disastrous war.

"The single most important thing to do is generate a consensus here in the United States Congress," Biden told The Washington Post. "I cannot believe that the president of the United States would not pay heed to a bipartisan resolution."

Majority Leader Harry Reid echoed his colleague's sentiments, telling The Times: "The president's plan will receive an up-or-down vote…. With that vote, our hope, really our prayer, is that the president will finally listen: listen to the generals, listen to the Iraq Study Group, listen to the American people and listen to a bipartisan Congress."

With all due respect to both Senators, what President have they been watching for the past six years?

Which isn't to suggest that there is no value in the non-binding resolutions that will be offered shortly after the State of the Union address tomorrow (the Senate is expected to take up such resolutions on Wednesday). The resolutions represent an opportunity to show a groundswell of opposition and also to recruit Republicans into taking a stronger position against the war – most notably thus far are resolution co-sponsors, Senators Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Olympia Snowe of Maine. (A former Bush aide who is still close to the White House said that if the situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate "a delegation of [conservative] Senators could one day show up in the Oval Office to tell Bush that the party is no longer with him and the war must end – much like Senator William Fulbright forcefully urging President Lyndon Johnson to bring the Vietnam War to a close.")

But passage of even a strongly worded resolution is no sure thing. According to The Times, Democratic Senator Ben Nelson – Hagel's Nebraskan counterpart – is working with Republican Senators John Warner and Susan Collins on a resolution which wouldn't "flatly oppose" the President's escalation. And the prospect of a filibuster led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also looms – although as Hagel said , "I don't believe there was one Republican senator who came forward with any kind of enthusiasm or any kind of strong support of the president's plan."

Even if a resolution does pass, if Congress then stands pat it would be a disaster in a nation where the people have so clearly expressed opposition to this war. (Even Chris Wallace of Fox News pointed out to Dick Cheney that the will of the people was demonstrated in an election – not a poll). Representative Barbara Lee – Co-Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus – said the resolutions are "a first step. [Our] bill will allow members of Congress to move forward and sign onto the second step." Lee, and Representatives Lynn Woolsey and Maxine Waters' Bring Our Troops Home and Sovereignty of Iraq Restoration Act calls for a six-month withdrawal and limits funding toward that end (as well as the training and equipping Iraqi and international security forces).

Representative Jerrold Nadler has also offered the Protect the Troops and Bring Them Home Act. The bill provides that no funds can be used in Iraq except to protect our troops and to arrange for their withdrawal beginning in one month and ending by December 31, 2007. Nadler's legislation would also allow funding to assist Iraqi security forces, support reconstruction, and further diplomatic consultations.

In a statement the other day, Nadler said: "It has been wrongly asserted that Congress cannot force the President to de-escalate or withdraw from Iraq because it cannot use its only real power – cutting off funds – lest it be accused of ‘abandoning the troops.' But if Congress appropriates funds, but limits those funds to protecting the troops and redeploying them from Iraq, that would be the best way of supporting the troops."

Representative James McGovern made that very point in 2005 with the End the War in Iraq Act. His bill would limit funding to protecting the troops for a safe and orderly withdrawal; supporting reconstruction and diplomatic efforts; and equipping Iraqi security forces and an international stabilization force.

Presidential candidate, Representative Dennis Kucinich, has also introduced a plan to use funds to end the occupation, withdraw all troops and close all military bases in Iraq, and build an international peacekeeping force.

The key to all of these proposals which would use the power of the purse, Nadler says, is "undercutting the political demagogic attack that it somehow means we are not supporting the troops."

One might expect to hear such attacks from the Bush administration or its dwindling supporters but it was most clearly expressed last week on the eve of her entry into the Presidential race – by Senator Hillary Clinton. Back from Iraq and Afghanistan, she has said in interview after interview that she will not cut funding because "our troops are in harms way."

I would ask the Senator to please point to any legislation that would cut funding for troops in harms way. As a Democratic strategist recently wrote, "This is nothing more than a slur, an echo of the politically dishonest rhetoric of the administration."

In fact, on Meet the Press, Senator Edward Kennedy said of the undercutting the troops myth: "… it's been so abused, the statements about what – what would happen. We would have an orderly departure. We would set a time and have an orderly departure. We would make sure that our troops had the armor and had the bullets, not like the administration has when we went in, when we didn't have the armor, we didn't have the bullets, we didn't have the up-armored humvees."

Clinton appears to be pursuing that old-time triangulation strategy at a moment when bold leadership is desperately needed: denouncing escalation and calling for a cap on the number of troops (appeal to the party base); opposing a date for withdrawal or using the power of the purse (appeal to "centrists"); and calling for an increase in the number of troops in Afghanistan (promote an image of being strong on defense).

Others in the Senate will more aggressively seek an end to the war. Kennedy's legislation would block funding of any troop increase without an explicit congressional authorization. (This is the approach favored by Representative John Murtha as well). Kennedy described his legislation: "It says that the president should come to the Congress and be able to demonstrate… that we need the increased troops, the increased resources with a new authorization…. Otherwise we have a cap in the number of troops that are there, and we don't have the resources to send additional troops there."

Senator Russ Feingold has also consistently opposed the war and urged using the power of the purse for an immediate withdrawal. After hearings in these next few weeks, he plans to introduce legislation to do just that – as he did in the last session of Congress.

Looming over all of this action (and inaction) is the 2008 presidential campaign. Former Senator John Edwards has called on Congress to use the power of the purse to stop escalation, saying that anything less would be a "betrayal"; Senator Christopher Dodd would cap the number of troops but so far has avoided the funding issue; Senator Barack Obama – who has opposed the war from the outset and is expected to introduce legislation this week – said in a released statement, "I not only favor capping the number U.S. troops in Iraq, but believe it's imperative that we begin the phased redeployment I called for two months ago, and intend to introduce legislation that does just that."

And in the House, according to the Washington Post, there is a growing conflict between "antiwar stalwarts such as Murtha" who want to use the power of the purse, and some senior Democrats like Democratic Caucus Chair Rahm Emanuel and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer who advocate a "go-slow" approach.

On January 27-29, labor, veterans, students, and peace groups from across the nation will mobilize in DC in order to increase grassroots pressure on our representatives to use their power to end the war – a war that is not winnable militarily, is looting our treasury, and is sending our servicemen and women into the crossfire of a civil war.

Meanwhile, these same representatives are hearing from their strategists, "For the sake of staying in power, you must not exercise the power you have in the matter of war."

That is folly. And after four years of folly in Iraq, it is time to put an end to it.

A version of this post appeared on The Guardian's Comment is Free blog.

Iraqi Millstone Round Bush's Neck

Coming into his sixth State of the Union address, Bush is politically weaker than ever before, and the cause is clear: Iraq.

The most recent WaPo-ABC poll found that 51% of Americans disapprove strongly of Bush's performance, and a further 14% disapprove somewhat, while only 33% express any level of approval at all. 48% said the Iraq war is the single most important issue they want Bush and the Congress to deal with this year.

And the recent news from Iraq is not good. Saturday was one of the killingest days for US service members in Iraq. Today (Monday), 88 Iraqis were ripped to death in a double car-bomb blast in a Baghdad market. On Monday, too, the US military worked hard to produce some "good news" for the Prez by issuing a report that they'd killed 93 Qaeda-related rebels in a 10-day operation in Diyala Province, northeast of Baghdad. (On the other hand, how many Qaeda-related rebels were there in all of Iraq, before Bush launched his ill-fated invasion of the country in 2003? Considerably fewer than 93, for sure.)

But possibly the worst recent Iraq news for the Prez came from the Shiite holy city of Karbala where on Saturday, some very bold and well-organized anti-US insurgents wearing what looked like US uniforms drove a sizeable convoy of SUVs right into a joint US-Iraqi base, and hunted down the US service members there, killing five and wounding three, before the whole convoy roared right out into the sunset again, unimpeded.

The base in question was a "Provincial Joint Coordination Center" (PJCC), where US troops were co-deployed alongside colleagues from the Iraqi "security forces." Very evidently, what happened there Saturday was a massive breach of security... And the fact the assailants were able to drive their multiple vehicles out of the compound after the attack without incident indicates-- perhaps even more strongly than the fact that they were able to get into it so easily-- that they likely had a number of confederates among the Iraqi security personnel working there.

Which presumably was a major reason why the US authorities in Baghdad did not want to divulge the details of the attack too widely. (Their brief press statement about the incident is here.)

Bush's new "surge" plan for Greater Baghdad-- and the whole of the US counterinsurgency effort in Iraq-- depends crucially on effecting a large increase in the numbers of US soldiers co-deployed with members of the "Iraqi security forces."

But the news from Karbala-- which is only the latest, though perhaps the most serious, incident in which Iraqis co-deployed with Americans have apparently given aid to anti-US attackers-- is likely to make the US commanders in Baghdad, Qatar, and Washington more wary than ever about such co-deployments. "Force protection", that is, the protection of the lives and wellbeing of their own soldiers, has been the overwhelming mission of the US deployment in Iraq all along, and has been pursued even at the cost of risking the lives of much greater numbers of Iraqi soldiers or civilians.

Given the US public's strong concern about US casualties, this emphasis on force protection is, perhaps, politically understandable. In announcing the most recent "surge", Bush has tried to signal that the US public might need to accept that there could be some increased US casualties during its early phases-- but he "promised" us, as well, that these would not last for long...

But all in all, for the Bushites, it's an extremely inopportune time for detailed news about an attack like the one in Karbala to get out and be disseminated to a wide US readership.

And yet, they proved unable to suppress the news. (As is clear from thre WaPo account linked to above, and also from here, this was primarily because the Karbala provincial governor was unwilling to participate in their attempts at a cover-up.)

Which is an indication of the Bushites' large and continuing political problems in Iraq, as well.

Meanwhile, US citizens who are concerned about both the wellbeing of the now long-battered people of Iraq and the lives and safety of the US service members deployed there should be asking the Bush administration's people some very pointed questions about the real prospects their "surge" plan has for de-escalating tensions in Iraq and paving the way for a US troops withdrawal that is speedy, orderly, and total...

In my clear judgment-- and based on all the evidence to date, including the above-- it has none.

Election Starting Way Too Early

Barack Obama -- born in 1961, therefore, by many calculations, a Baby Boomer -- is positioning himself -- with the help of pundits like John Broder of the New York Times, as the Generation X candidate, claiming that Americans are tired of the Boomer generation and want a "different kind of politics."

What's that about? Anti-Baby Boom rhetoric is so 1992 (and we elected a Baby Boomer that year anyway). Obama acknowledges that the actual problems that worried the 1960s generation -- racism, war, poverty -- haven't gone away. He's vague on what sort of agenda he would pursue as a post-Boomer politician. That's not surprising since Generation X -- my generation, though perhaps not Obama's -- doesn't have any political opinions to speak of. Which renders Barack's critique, essentially, one of style. So we're supposed to be impressed that he's into web-streaming video?

You can't really blame Barack for talking nonsense. He's running for President.And that's why I'm sick of him already. And Hillary. And all the rest of these bozos and their "Exploratory Committees." Right now, these folks are exactly as significant to me as Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan. That is to say, I'm not going to stop myself from reading about them, but I recognize that doing so is a rather foolish distraction from the rest of life.

Like the holiday season, the presidential election season is not without its amusements but begins much too early. The endless horse-racing by pundits and press is already starting, and I feel my stomach turning, not just at the tedium of it, but at the dizzying pace at which it forecloses political possibilities, and even conversation of any substance. Can't we have a little time for real politics before we're civically obliged to attend to this drone-fest of nothingness? A few months to talk about issues and ideas before the white noise about "name recognition" and "fund-raising capacity" and "poll numbers" begins?

Mostly, this election madness is a media creation. But even progressives are already obsessing over 2008, even in casual conversation. Can't we focus instead on building the anti-war movement, which is planning a potentially huge march in D.C. this weekend? And pressuring the Democratic Congress to do just a few sensible, widely popular things: stop Bush's escalation in Iraq, pass real global warming legislation and refrain from starting a war with Iran? And on the state level, lots of newly elected governors are making exciting promises -- Eliot Spitzer in New York, for instance, promises universal pre-K -- shouldn't we work to make sure they deliver? And the important daily work of local politics, like passing living wage laws so that more working people can live on their earnings without the help of soup kitchens? Out of these smaller battles, larger movements grow. Out of such movements, politics can emerge in which elections are about something; without such politics, electoral discourse is as weighty as Page Six, and that's where we are right now.

I do, of course, want to wrest the White House from the Republicans. I'm as eager as anyone else to end the horror of the last six years. I understand why Democrats are desperate for more exciting candidates, and for victory. But I don't think that feeding the machine too early is going to help.

Reason for Modest Hope

Shouldn't we pause to take note of the rare convergence that has unfolded in the Democrats' "early bird" contest for president? At this moment, the two hot candidates staring down each other--maybe glaring enviously--are a woman and an African-American. With Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama as frontrunners, America has never been here before. To sharpen the point, throw in Bill Richardson, the New Mexico governor who also announced last weekend, as the first Mexican-American to make a serious run for the White House.

I don't want to over-analyze the meaning, but surely it says something promising--even audacious--about the possible state of the union. The coming political season at least offers extreme novelty. Race and gender are both going to be on the ballot in nominating primaries, if only as the subtext, and neither is automatically assumed to be a fatal burden. Intolerance has not exactly disappeared from American life, but this allows us to imagine that another barrier to power--an obstacle deeply grounded in prejudice--might be ripe for obsolescence.

Many young people probably regard this as obvious and unremarkable. Those of us who have reached a certain age reflect in awe at the strange patterns that lead eventually to historic change.

The first presidential contest I saw up close as a young reporter turned on this question: Can the American republic survive with a Roman Catholic president? That was 1960 and I was working in a very Republican town where many voters saw John F. Kennedy as the agent of the pope. Local evangelical preachers told them so from the pulpit, Sunday after Sunday. But the Catholics in town--good Republicans too--were shocked by the open bigotry around them. They didn't talk about it much, but afterwards confided they had crossed party lines and cast a discreet vote for religious equality.

Sometimes, the early "stars" in Democratic contests lose their glow and voters gravitate to other candidates espousing other issues. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have numerous assets and handicaps in addition to their glamour, race and gender. So if they do lose, it won't necessarily mean intolerance has triumphed again. If Democrats wind up choosing another white guy--who knows--this too might be a sign of maturity.

Protesting the War

On Saturday, January 27 there will be a major mobilization in Washington, DC against the war in Iraq organized by United for Peace and Justice. The idea is to show Congress that America wants a peace surge, not a troop surge, and to push legislators to listen to the voters, not Bush, and bring the war to a close. The weekend's activities will include an interfaith peace service and a Congressional Education Day on Monday, January 29th. Click here for info on transportation and here for info on housing, and help spread the word by posting flyers, downloading web buttons and sharing videos.

And if you're a student organizer (or the parent or friend of one!) you should know that our friends and partners at Campus Progress are making every effort to ensure that all students are able to make their voices heard by offering travel grants of up to $300 for students organizing carpool or van trips to the capital. Click here for info on how to apply

Along these lines, the Revolting Students of Wisconsin are offering radically reduced bus tickets to any Wisconsin student who wants to attend the march. There's also still time make a donation to Adopt-A-Student to make it possible for a student to go who couldn't otherwise afford it.

So go to DC on January 27 if you can, and watch this space for more ideas coming up on how to help get us out of Iraq.

Thinking Vietnam, Fighting in Iraq

It's been a repetitive phenomenon of these last years--when fears about disaster (or further disaster, or even the farthest reaches of disaster) in Iraq rise, so does the specter of Vietnam. Despite the obvious dissimilarities between the two situations, Vietnam has been the shadow war we're still fighting. The Bush administration began its 2003 invasion by planning a non-Vietnam War scenario right down to not having "body counts," those grim, ridiculed death chants of that long-past era. His administration, as the President put it before the November mid-term elections, wasn't going to be a "body-count team." But the Vietnam experience has proven nothing short of irresistible in a crisis. Within the last month, after Bush himself bemoaned the lack of a body count in the vicinity, the body count slipped back into the news as a way to measure success in Iraq.

And that was only the beginning. With the recent plummeting of presidential approval ratings and the dismal polling reactions to Bush's "new way forward" in Iraq, the Vietnam scenario is experiencing something like a renaissance. Sometimes, these days, it seems as if top administration officials are simply spending their time preparing mock-Vietnam material for Jon Stewart's The Daily Show. The recent "surge" plan, for instance, brought that essential Vietnam vocabulary word, "escalation," back into currency. (It was on Democratic lips all last week.) Even worse, the President's plan was the kind of "incremental escalation" that military commanders coming out of Vietnam had sworn would never, ever be used again.

In any case, when Republican Senator (and surge opponent) Chuck Hagel questioned Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice about the E-word last week, she denied it was an appropriate moniker. Here's what she suggested instead. "I would call it, Senator, an augmentation that allows the Iraqis to deal with this very serious problem that they have in Baghdad." (And, of course, Stewart promptly pounced…)

But that, too, was only the beginning. Hagel, a Vietnam veteran, called the President's plan "the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam." Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, just appointed senior military commander in Iraq in charge of the Baghdad "surge," turned out to have written a doctoral thesis, much publicized last week, entitled "The American Military and the Lessons of Vietnam: A Study of Military Influence and the Use of Force in the Post-Vietnam Era." ("Don't commit American troops, Mr. President unless… You have established clear-cut, attainable military objectives for American military forces… [and] you provide the military commander sufficient forces and the freedom necessary to accomplish his mission swiftly...")

Part of the plan Petraeus is evidently to put into effect involves an urban version of what Los Angeles Times reporter Julian E. Barnes labels "a spectacular failure" of the Vietnam War, the "strategic hamlet" program in which whole communities were to be sealed off from the "insurgents" of that era. For Baghdad, the military is now redubbing these -- with another obvious bow to Stewart's show -- "gated communities." ("'You do it neighborhood by neighborhood,' said the Defense official. 'Think of L.A. Let's say we take West Hollywood and gate it off. Or Anaheim. Or central Los Angeles. You control that area first and work out from there.'")

Fears that Iraq's collapse into civil war (or a U.S. withdrawal) might knock down other states in the region like so many ten pins, as former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski reminded us in a Washington Post op-ed, "Five Flaws in the President's Plan," brought another Vietnam classic back to the fold: "the (falling) domino theory." With the President's latest threats against Syria and Iran--"We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We'll interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq…"--yet another oldie but goodie from that era has reappeared: "hot pursuit": As in pursuing the commies (or Islamo-fascists or Shiite renegades or al-Qaeda terrorists) across the Cambodian or Syrian or Iranian border. And speaking of Cambodia, Congress did at one point prohibit the use of funds to pursue war in that country, exercising its constitutionally guaranteed power of the purse, a thought that only in the last weeks has made it back from the critical wilderness into the mainstream as a respectable, debatable position for any politician.

But perhaps it's no more complicated than this: In a world in which self-determination and nationalism are bedrock values, once you've tried to occupy a country, whether under the banner of anti-Communism or anti-Islamo-fascism, whether claiming to be in support of the "Free World" or "freedom" itself, it may no longer matter which counterinsurgency tactics you use or strategies you adopt, or whether you count bodies or not. Once you've taken such a path -- as long as you don't make the decision to withdraw--you may always find yourself in that limited land of options that we like to call "Vietnam."

Sarah Olson and the Struggle to Save Journalism

American journalism is under assault. The Telecommunications Act of 1996,with its encouragement of media consolidation and homogenization, hasprovoked a marked decline in the diversity and quality of broadcast news.The latest round of print media mergers and acquisitions is puttingnewspaper writers out of work at an unprecedented rate. And the people whoown the nation's communications combines are, for the most part, so risk averse and so thoroughlyobsessed with their bottom lines that they are making it impossible for the serious reporters who remain to do their jobs. These are fundamental, structural andrapidly expanding threats.

Equally serious is the threat posed by a government that, when it is notseeking to deceive a credulous Washington press corps with carefully-wovenspin, overtly threatens and punishes reporters who actually seek in thesedifficult times to practice the craft of journalism.

But the greatest of all threats comes when journalists fail to defend fellowreporters and editors who have come under direct attack.

When the Bush administration decided to ignore legitimate questions fromveteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas -- with presidential presssecretaries and their aides going out of their way to try and isolate anddiscredit her for failing to practice stenography to power -- the remainderof the press corps was for the most part silent. And the power of the press,which the founders of the American experiment had intended to serve as anecessary check and balance upon executive excess, was further diminished.

Now comes another test.

Sarah Olson, a 31-year-old independent writer and radio producer fromOakland, California, finds herself in the targets of Army prosecutors, Thoseprosecutors are demanding that Olson help them build the case against 1stLt. Ehren Watada, an officer who faces a court-martial trial for expressingopposition to the war in Iraq and for refusing to deploy with a unit beingdispatched to that country.

Along with a reporter for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Olson was in Decembersent a subpoena seeking testimony that would confirm the accuracy ofanti-war statements attributed to Watada.

The quotes are not seriously in question; in fact, Lieutenant Watada hasmade similar statements in a number of public settings. The firstcommissioned officer in the U.S. armed forces to formally refuse deploymentin George Bush's war, Lieutenant Watada has made it absolutely clear that hehas lost confidence in the president as his commander-in-chief, that hebelieves the war lacks legal legitimacy and that he feels his participationin the conflict could make him a party to war crimes. This month, in remarksto a crowd at Seattle Central Community College, the lieutenant spoke atlength about "the illegality of this war."

So why subpoena Sarah Olson?

Lieutenant Watada case is a difficult one for the Army prosecutors, and byextension for the commander-in-chief.

An Eagle Scout who joined the Army after finishing a degree at HawaiiPacific University, Lieutenant Watada served so ably during a tour of dutyin Korea that he was rated by his superior officers as "among the best" and"exemplary," and recommended for an early promotion. Lieutenant Watada hasvolunteered to serve in Afghanistan, where he believes that U.S. troops areparticipating in "an unambiguous war linked to the September 11 attacks."But he refuses to deploy to Iraq because, he explains, he believes that theU.S. presence in that country violates the Constitution, which requires thatwars be declared by Congress, and the War Powers Act, which places limits onpresidential war making. Lieutenant Watada also argues that the U.S. invasionand occupation of Iraq is in clear conflict with the UN Charter, the GenevaConventions and the Nuremberg Principles, which bar wars of aggression.

It appears that the prosecutors do not want to provide Watada with an openand fair forum in which to explain his arguments against the war. They arefrightened by the prospect that an obviously courageous and patrioticsoldier might, in response to questions about why he has refused to deployto Iraq, make an articulate and convincing case against the legitimacy of anunpopular war.

That's publicity that the Bush administration does not want at a time whenits war of whim has gone terribly awry. And it certainly won't help militaryrecruitment.

So the military prosecutors are trying to get journalists to build the caseagainst the lieutenant.

Olson is balking. The reporter is proud of her work, and she is notparticularly concerned about confirming quotes -- something that journalistsfrequently do. But Olson does not want to serve as a pawn in theprosecution's game.

"It's not a reporter's job to participate in the prosecution of her ownsources,'' she explains. "When you force a journalist to participate, yourun the risk of turning the journalist into an investigative tool of thestate.''

There is no question that Olson is right.

The question is whether journalists will stand with her as she defends ourcraft.

Olson is asking reporters and editors to sign a letter objecting to theArmy's decision to subpoena journalists to testify in the court-martial ofLt. Watada.

"It's a journalist's job to report the news, not to participate ingovernment prosecutions. The press cannot function if it is used by thegovernment to prosecute political speech, and hauling a journalist into amilitary court erodes the separation between government and press. Turningreporters into the investigative arm of the government subverts pressfreedoms and chills dissenting speech in the United States. The press mustpreserve its ability to cover all aspects of a debate, not just theperspectives popular with the current administration. We believe ajournalist's duty is to the public and their right to know, not to thegovernment," reads the statement, which is addressed to the prosecutors. "Inthe name of the cornerstone values this nation claims to uphold and forwhich the men and women in the military are fighting, we ask that you end toyour insistence that journalists participate in the court-martial of Lt.Watada. We need more information, participation, and debate – inside andoutside the military – not less. As the LA Times argued in its January 8theditorial: 'It's time for the Army to back off.'"

I am proud to add my name to the list of signers of a statement that is notmerely a defense of Sarah Olson but a reassertion of the founding principlethat a free press is the essential underpinning of democracy.

John Nichols, a veteran newspaper and magazine writer and editor, haswritten and spoken widely on the intentions of the founders who amended theConstitution to protect freedom of the press. The keynote speaker at the2OO4 Congress of the International Federation of Journalists, he is acofounder of Free Press, the media reform movement, and the co-author withRobert W. McChesney of three books on media and democracy.

Shaken By Obama, Clinton Moves Up

Anyone who thought Barack Obama's announcement that he is preparing to bid for the Democratic presidential nomination would scare off other prospective candidates will be set straight before the weekend is done.

New York Senator Hillary Clinton, who would if elected be the first woman president, announced in a videotaped statement posted this morning on her campaign website that she is filing the paperwork necessary to create an exploratory committee -- the traditional first step in rolling out a presidential campaign.

"I'm in. And I'm in to win," Clinton tells supporters, adding that, "I'm not just starting a campaign, though, I'm beginning a conversation with you, with America. Let's talk. Let's chat. The conversation in Washington has been just a little one-sided lately, don't you think?"

Those who suspect that Clinton is moving up her launch in order to steal some of Obama's thunder before the Sunday talk shows get all wrapped up in an Obamania conversation would, of course, be right.

Until Obama came along, the former First Lady was the acknowledged frontrunner in the race. In fact, most of the talk was about which candidate would emerge as "the anti-Hillary." Now, the speculation has shifted to the question of whether Obama might actually be the frontrunner.

That's a conversation that Clinton wants to change -- quickly.

Clinton's decision to announce the formation of an exploratory committee represents the first formal indication that her much-anticipated run is going forward, and it will end speculation about the prospect that she might yet choose to remain in the Senate. (That speculation, a favorite of some D.C. pundits, never gained much credibility among Democrats at the grassroots, who were well aware of the Clinton team's machinations in early caucus and primary states such as Iowa and New Hampshire; at the same time that Obama was making his announcement, Clinton was making personal calls to key Democratic activists in those states.)

But Clinton is not the only Democrat taking steps toward a presidential run this weekend. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who if elected would be the first Hispanic president, is indicating that he will make an announcement on Sunday. A Richardson bid would be especially significant in the early stages of the fight for the nomination, as Democrats in the western state of Nevada -- where the New Mexican is well known, and potentially something of a regional favorite -- will be among the first to weigh in on the race.

From a historical standpoint, it is remarkable that a single week is seeing so many high-profile candidates leap into the Democratic contest. Traditionally, candidates seek to announce in isolation, so that they can reap the most media attention and, potentially, build excitement about their bids.

Even more remarkable is the fact that the latest launches come after a rapid succession of entries by former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, former North Carolina Senator John Edwards, Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, Delaware Senator Joe Biden and Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd -- all of whom are in different stages of preparing or advancing candidacies. Still to come: A decision by 2004 nominee John Kerry, and more speculation about what former Vice President Al Gore will do.

Why the rush?

Democrats are well aware that this race is starting fast. Less than a year from now, the Iowa caucuses will be done. And as Gore and Kerry will remind you, a first-place finish in Iowa often translates into primary wins and the nomination.

Obama and Clinton are clearly the first-tier candidates at this point, but Edwards has done the best job of organizing in the early caucus and primary states. The 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee has actually led in some Iowa polls. Edwards has also begun to attract significant labor support in Las Vegas, which could make him a serious contender in Nevada.

Clinton is particularly determined to get going fast now becasue she wants to solidify what she sees as a critical base in New Hampshire. Her fear is that, if she does not move quickly, Obama will trump her there. The Illinois senator plans to return to the first-primary state in the near future, following upon a visit last fall that drew enthusiastic crowds and expressions of interest in his candidacy from key Democrats.

Even if she has more money than the other contenders and, arguably, a better network of potential supporters on the ground -- many of them longtime "Friends of Bill," who got to know Hillary while working on her husband's presidential bid in 1991 and 1992 -- Clinton understands that she cannot afford to lose Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada and expect to maintain a serious bid for the nomination.

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism has been hailed by authors and historians Gore Vidal,Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn for its meticulous research into theintentions of the founders and embraced by activists for itsgroundbreaking arguments on behalf of presidential accountability.After reviewing recent books on impeachment, Rolling Stone politicalwriter Tim Dickinson, writes in the latest issue of Mother Jones, "JohnNichols' nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic, TheGenius of Impeachment, stands apart. It concerns itself far less withthe particulars of the legal case against Bush and Cheney, and insteadcombines 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 Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and atwww.amazon.com

Smearing Barack Obama

Today a friend forwarded me an e-mail that a friend of his had received with the subject "Let Us Remain Alert!" the contents of which are below:

Probable U. S. presidential candidate, Barack Hussein Obama was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, to Barack Hussein Obama, Sr., a black Muslim from Nyangoma-Kogel, Kenya and Ann Dunham, a white atheist from Wichita, Kansas.

Obama's parents met at the University of Hawaii.

When Obama was two years old, his parents divorced. His father returned to Kenya. His mother then married Lolo Soetoro, a radical Muslim from Indonesia. When Obama was 6 years old, the family relocated to Indonesia.

Obama attended a Muslim school in Jakarta. He also spent two years in a Catholic school.

Obama takes great care to conceal the fact that he is a Muslim. He is quick to point out that, he was once a Muslim, but that he also attended Catholic school.

Obama's political handlers are attempting to make it appear that Obama's introduction to Islam came via his father, and that this influence was temporary at best. In reality, the senior Obama returned to Kenya soon after the divorce, and never again had any direct influence over his son's education. Lolo Soetoro, the second husband of Obama's mother, Ann Dunham, introduced his stepson to Islam. Osama [sic--yes, they slipped that in there too] was enrolled in a Wahabi school in Jakarta. Wahabism is the radical teaching that is followed by the Muslim terrorists who are now waging Jihad against the western world.

Since it is politically expedient to be a Christian when seeking major public office in the United States, Barack Hussein Obama has joined the United Church of Christ in an attempt to downplay his Muslim background.

Let us all remain alert concerning Obama's expected presidential candidacy.

Now I see via Atrios, that Fox News has elevated this smear to national television. It seems as a child in Indonesia Obama attended a Muslim school for two years (otherwise known as a madrassa), so obviously he's a latter-day Manchurian candidate brainwashed and programmed at the age of 7 to grow up to be a gifted orator, run for President and immediately replace the Constitution with Sharia. Seriously. (Incidentally, not that this really deserves a response, but it wasn't a Wahhabi school.)

On a related note, it's really bothered me that the word "madrassa" has become synonymous with "terrorist training school." A madrassa is just a Muslim religious school, like a yeshiva or a Catholic school. Jeffrey Goldberg had a typically hyperventilating piece about Wahhabi madrassas in Pakistan a few years back, which I think was what prompted the madrassa freak-out, but as Peter Bergen and Swati Pandey pointed out in the Times two years ago, there's absolutely no correlation between madrassa education and terrorism.