On Labor Day, the starting point for the mad rush to this winter's Democratic presidential caucuses and primaries, several of the Democratic contenders could point to support they have received from the unions and union members that will be critical to securing the party's nomination to challenge George W. Bush. By any measure, however, former House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt owns the bragging rights. With the endorsement he received August 20 from the 300,000-member Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical & Energy Workers (PACE) International Union, Gephardt now claims the support of a dozen major unions.
Gephardt is backed by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters; the United Steelworkers of America; the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers; the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers; the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers; the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers; the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees; the American Maritime Officers; the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees; the Office and Professional Employees International Union; and the Seafarer`s International Union. That's an impressive list, drawn from unions with long histories of friendly relations with Gephardt, the son of a St. Louis Teamster who during the presidencies of George Herbert Walker Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush positioned himself as labor's best ally in Washington. "We know Gephardt," said PACE President Boyd Young, when he announced his union's endorsement. The ties between Gephardt and many labor leaders run deep, and they often run strong – having been forged in difficult struggles to block Congressional approval of trade pacts such as the North American Free Trade Agreement. When the 650,000-member steelworkers union endorsed Gephardt, it's president, Leo Gerard, described the Missouri congressman as someone who "shares our deeply-held conviction that America's trade policies are the cause of more than two million manufacturing jobs having been lost in recent years, and he has never failed to make the case, no matter the odds of victory."
That's high praise, indeed. But Gephardt will need more than kind words and the endorsements of a dozen unions to become "labor's candidate" in 2004. To secure the support of the AFL-CIO, which provided early and essential backing to Al Gore in his race against Bill Bradley for the Democratic nomination in 2000, Gephardt needs the backing of unions representing two-thirds of the labor federation's 13 million members. He does not have it now, and he's unlikely to gain it by October, when a meeting of the AFL-CIO's board, on which the president's of the 65 unions that make up the federation sit, could make the designation.
Gephardt, whose slow-to-get-started campaign desparately needs the AFL-CIO endorsement to keep itself in contention, appears to be facing tougher than expected competition for the hearts and minds of union leaders and rank-and-file members. He's got two big problems: His cozier-than-necessary relations with the Bush administration during 2001 and 2002, including his support for the resolution authorizing the president to wage war against Iraq, cost him a great deal of credibility. Also, there is a good deal of uncertainty about whether the Missourian has what it takes to beat President Bush in 2004. Several industrial unions with substantial memberships in key states -- such as the United Auto Workers, a powerful force in the first-caucus state of Iowa and the early primary state of Michigan, as well as the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees, which is strong in the Carolinas and New York -- remain skeptical about Gephardt's prospects. And the public employee and health-care sector unions that have some of the highest memberships among AFL-CIO affiliates -- such as the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, as well as the American Federation of Teachers – appear to be even less enamored of Gephardt.
Massachusetts Senator John Kerry was, for a time, seen as a serious contender for SEIU and AFSCME support, just as he was considered to be in the running for an early endorsement from the independent National Education Association. And Kerry has shown strength in other sectors; just before national leaders of the Teamsters union endorsed Gephardt, its second largest local in the country -- 20,000-member Local 705 in the Chicago area -- split and endorsed Kerry. "We wanted to give an early endorsement to John Kerry because he has always been a friend to the working men and women we represent and because we believe that he is the best candidate to beat George W. Bush," said Local 705 Secretary-Treasurer Jerry Zero.
But Kerry's ability to present himself to unions as a frontrunner has been hampered by the surge of former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, who now leads Kerry and the other candidates in polls from Iowa, New Hampshire, California and other key states. With his history of supporting corporate free trade pacts like the North American Free Trade Agreement, Dean has had to work hard to connect with organized labor and there is no chance that he will get an early endorsement from the AFL-CIO. But Dean has made inroads among union members. He drew a rousing response during a recent appearance before a gathering of the California Teachers Association, a powerful NEA affiliate that represents 335,000 educators and school employees in that state.
More than 100 Iowa labor activists signed onto newspaper advertisements set for publication in the Labor Day editions of the Des Moines Register. In Iowa, as in a number of other states, union members are ill at ease with George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq, and Dean has won points with his anti-war rhetoric and his proposals for increases in domestic spending.
"If we can afford to rebuild Iraq, then we can afford t rebuild our country," said Tom Gillespie, the president of the Iowa State Building and Trades Council, who signed the Labor for Dean ad.
With polls showing that Dean is already ahead of their man in Iowa, the Gephardt campaign responded to the Labor for Dean ad with a sharply-worded statement noting that, "Howard Dean was one of the leading governors to support NAFTA and even attended the initial White House ceremony with Canadian and Mexican leaders in 1993."
While Gephardt can easily argue that he has a sounder record of supporting labor's agenda than Dean, Gephardt cannot say that he has the best labor record among the nine Democratic contenders. Asked recently whether there was any candidate with a labor record to match Gephardt's, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney answered, "Dennis Kucinich."
Kucinich, the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, is even more passionate than Gephardt when it comes to criticizing NAFTA and other free-trade agreements. Kucinich, who carries a union card, says he wants to create "a workers' White House" and promises to end US participation in NAFTA and the World Trade Organization. Those are big applause lines at union gatherings. Indeed, when Kucinich appeared in late August at the convention of the independent United Electrical workers union, he so impressed the delegates that they quickly passed a resolution that hailed Kucinich for "injecting into the primary process a sense of urgency with regard to the need to tackle the various crises facing working people, including the imperative to remove Bush from office in the November 2004 election." Noting that UE has never made a presidential primary endorsement, the statement endorsed by the delegates added that, "we are, however, proud to strongly urge UE rank-and-file members to seriously consider [Kucinich's] candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination."
While the enthusiasm of the UE delegates was good news for Kucinich, no one is suggesting that he has a shot at winning the coveted AFL-CIO nod. "The only person who has a chance [of securing the AFL-CIO endorsement] at this moment is Dick Gephardt," Service Employees International Union President Andy Stern said in August.
But, on a Labor Day weekend when he would have liked to be celebrated as "labor's candidate," Gephardt is still struggling to secure the support he needs to claim the AFL-CIO endorsement that will almost certainly make or break his candidacy.
"Any Democratic candidate will be destroyed in the South," gloated Chris Caldwell in a recent issue of the Weekly Standard. Caldwell should head to Greenville, South Carolina, one of the most conservative areas in the United States, where Bush--bashing currently extends from unemployed machine operators to textile industry CEOs.
"Bush can forget about the Solid South," says Roger Chastain, president of a textile company. "There's no Solid South anymore." Chastain told the New York Times that the massive loss of jobs (2.5 million nationally) since Bush took office, and anger over the stagnant pace of economic recovery, makes the president vulnerable in a region his party has long taken for granted. Lynn Mayson, a mother of three, and unemployed for months, put it bluntly: "I'm not going to vote for Bush unless things change. The economy has got to get better." Both Chastain and Mayson are registered Republicans, part of the "solid south" that helped Bush win office in 2000.
The trade issue has become a lightning rod of discontent in these parts. Even the Republican chief executive of Spartanburg, South Carolina's Economic Development Corporation, laments that the number of new jobs is not keeping pace with those lost, putting South Carolina among the highest-ranked states in percentage of jobs lost during the Bush years (#3 behind Massachusetts and Ohio).
With all the talk about how free trade has been good for the country, textile industry leaders in the region are so fed up with job flight to Mexico, Indonesia and China that they've vowed to withhold support for Bush in 2004 if the Administration doesn't immediately narrow the trade gap. Chastain, like other South Carolina Republicans, says problems have reached such a point that he would consider voting for a Democrat like Richard Gephardt, a consistent foe of NAFTA. Mayson says she would vote for anyone with a plan to create more jobs.
One of the great surprises of Election Night 2000 were the early results that suggested Al Gore might win Virginia, Louisiana and Arkansas--as well as Florida. Gore barely bothered to campaign in the South and he was anything but an ideal messenger for the Democratic Party in the region. But he did offer a dose of us-against-them populism in his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention and in enough of his subsequent appearances to remain competitive in states where he was not supposed to be a player.
Indeed, Gore proved to be so competitive on Election Day that the television networks couldn't declare the winner in many southern states for hours after the polls closed. At the very least, Gore tied Florida, ended up winning forty-five percent of the vote in Virginia, Louisiana and Arkansas, and secured only slightly weaker finishes in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina. Only in George W. Bush's homestate of Texas did Gore pull under forty percent of the vote.
The bottom line for Democrats should be clear: Fighting the next election on behalf of jobs, family farms, healthcare and education for all, a populist Democratic nominee could give George Herbert Hoover Bush a real race in a region that the GOP--and its media boosters--now take for granted.
At last Saturday's rally honoring the 40th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Civil Rights, the Rev. Jesse Jackson recounted the narrow election losses Democrats have suffered in southern states and called for a renewed emphasis on voter registration and populist campaigning to close the gap.
"We must go South today," said Jackson. "It is the red zone where we must go to win the election." Jackson is right. If the Administration's economic policies continue to destroy the industrial base of the region, the South need not be solid for Bush in 2004. In fact, it could well provide the margin of victory for the Democrat who is willing to challenge Bush with the old cry, "It's the economy, stupid."
The Bush White House persistently manipulates scientific data to advance its ideology and the interests of its political supporters. That was the conclusion of a forty-page report issued earlier this month by the House Committee on Government Reform. It accused the Administration of compromising the scientific integrity of federal institutions that monitor food and medicine, conduct medical research, control disease and health risks and protect the environment.
Now, we learn--thanks to a report released last week by the EPA's Inspector General--that the White House also instructed agency officials to reassure New Yorkers after September 11th that the air in the vicinity of the World Trade Center was safe to breathe, even though deadly contaminants were present, and the quality of the air, was, at best, unclear. (See Matt Bivens' Daily Outrage for more.)
Dr. Stephen Levin, director of the World Trade Center Worker and Volunteer Medical Screening Program at Mount Sinai Medical Center, called the report "shocking," in an interview in New York Newsday. "It's an outrageous interference in the role of the public health agencies that were established to protect the people," Levin said of the Bush Administration's alleged influence over the EPA.
What were the "competing considerations" that pushed Bush officials to mislead New York City residents? One important factor, according to the report, was "the desire to reopen Wall Street." So, we have an administration that misleads its citizens, at the expense of their health, in order to benefit Wall Street?
Sadly, that's not too surprising. Every day brings fresh revelations of how this Administration's deceit threatens its citizens' health and welfare. New York Senator Hillary Clinton has called on the Justice Department to look into the EPA report. Rep. Jerry Nadler is demanding a formal Congressional investigation. But, what's really needed is an independent investigation into the Bush Administration's unprecedented manipulation of the scientific process.
The passionate desire for democratic regime change in 2004 extends even into the grave. Hardworking Sally Baron of Stoughton, Wisconsin--who raised six children and cared for her husband after he was crushed in a mining accident--should be an example to all Americans. Click here to read an August 21 obituary for Baron from the Madison Capital-Times to find out what her children decided was a fitting memorial in her honor.
And read native Wisconsinite and Nation Washington correspondent John Nichols's moving tribute to Baron, also published in the Cap-Times, for more on the working-class political culture of old-time Wisconsin, which shaped Baron's progressive worldview.
On August 18th, one day before the horrifying bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, President Bush revised his earlier characterization of the fighting in Iraq. The once-swaggering commander-in-chief, who strutted on the decks of the USS Abraham Lincoln to declare victory, now allows that combat operations are still underway.
It always seemed premature to speak of the period in Iraq as one of "postwar." But that didn't stop the White House from rushing to declare that the conflict was concluded. However, the steady stream of American and Iraqi casualties, the increasingly sophisticated guerrilla attacks on Iraqi infrastructure--and, now, the UN headquarters--suggest that the Iraq war continues, and that only its conventional battlefield phase is over. Even the American military commander in Iraq recently described Iraqi attacks as classic "guerrilla warfare," a term Administration officials--until just recently--have been loath to use.
What is needed now is not--as many are demanding--an escalation of US forces but, rather, an acknowledgment that the US and its small band of allies, do not have the resources, legitimacy or even competence to stabilize Iraq. Instead of entrenching a Pentagon-led occupation, the White House should use this perilous moment to seek internationalization of the rebuilding and administration of the country, which can only happen if the process is turned over to the UN.
As Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, reminds, "The US-UK war and occupation were and remain illegal." By agreeing to participate under the authority of that occupation force, the UN, unfortunately, is providing a political fig leaf for an illegal occupation. If the United Nations is to be perceived by the Iraqi people as a legitimate and stabilizing force, it will need to play a genuinely independent role and disassociate itself from the US occupation. And so as to avoid the trap of internationalization on the cheap, the UN will need real resources--and control--in the reconstruction process.
But time is running short. Listen to terrorism expert Jessica Stern: The "bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad was the latest evidence that America has taken a country that was not a terrorist threat and turned it into one," Stern wrote recently in the New York Times. "The occupation has given disparate groups from various countries a common battlefield on which to fight a common enemy...Most ominously, Al-Qaeda's influence may be growing."
We are now witnessing the tragic unfolding of consequences that The Nation--and millions opposed to war--warned against: the fueling of anti-Americanism in the Islamic world; the undermining of the global fight against terrorism and the deaths of innocent US soldiers and Iraqi civilians.
We also argued that occupation would mean more spending on war and less on homeland security and numerous unmet domestic needs. The Administration will continue to deny what it has created in Iraq. But shifting public sentiment suggests an opening: a recent PIPA/Knowledge Networks poll found that 64 percent of Americans want the UN to take the lead in rebuilding Iraq.
As long as the US is an occupying power--US v. International Jihad--the harder it will be to pull together the international resources, will and expertise required for the long-term project of stabilizing Iraq, reestablishing true self-government in that country, and combating terrorism around the world.
Faced with a national outcry so intense that Congress is moving to reverse his attempt to eliminate controls on media consolidation and monopoly, Federal Communications Commission chair Michael Powell announced Wednesday that the FCC was launching a Localism in Broadcasting Initiative.
Powell says his agency is forming a task force to study how federal policies affect locally-oriented programming. In addition, the chairman says he also wants the commission to issue more licenses to not-for-profit groups seeking to set up low-power FM radio stations in their neighborhoods.
Both of those steps are appropriate. It is atrocious that the FCC has failed to study the impact on local programming of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and other federal decisions that have promoted consolidation and conglomeration of radio station ownership -- ending hometown control of hundreds of stations and ushering in an era of homogenized music and shuttered local news departments. And the roadblocks erected by the FCC to the licensing of low-power stations have been indefensible.
But Powell deserves no praise. Throughout this spring's debate over whether to allow big media companies to consolidate their control over local markets -- by lifting restrictions that had prevented one firm from buying the daily newspaper, radio and television stations and the cable system in a single city -- Powell rejected concerns about damage to local content and control. "We should have vetted these issues before we voted," says FCC commissioner Michael Copps, who resisted Powell's rush to rewrite the ownership rules to benefit big corporations. "Instead, we voted; now we are going to vet. This is a policy of 'ready, fire, aim.'"
Copps has it exactly right. Powell is talking about localism now only because the House of Representatives has already moved to block one of the key rule changes while the Senate is preparing to consider a proposal to overturn all six changes that were approved June 2 by 3-2 votes of the FCC. There is nothing sincere about the chairman's "commitment" to localism. He is merely trying to avert Congressional intervention that could prevent him from delivering on the Bush administration's promise to make it possible for big media corporations (which also happen to be big campaign contributors) to expand their reach at the local and national levels.
If Congress backs off and the rule changes are implemented, however, localism will be destroyed even as it is studied. As Commissioner Copps says, "We now hear that there may be localism issues after all. But what's going to happen when we study localism over the next year? The answer is: deals, deals and more deals. The answer is more standardized and homogenized programming. The answer is more indecency on the people's airwaves. The answer is less diversity of viewpoint and less coverage of local news."
U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan, D-North Dakota, who has been spearheading Senate efforts to overturn FCC moves to allow consolidation of ownership of local media and the dramatic expansion of the number of television stations nationally that a network can own, echoed Copps' concern. "It is a very curious strategy for the chairman to change the rules in a way that will dramatically damage localism and then, nearly three months later, propose a process to examine how those rules might affect localism," says Dorgan.
Dorgan knows that Powell's study will do nothing to preserve local programming. And the issuing of a few more low-power radio station licenses -- "a very small step in the right direction," says the Prometheus Radio Project's Pete Tridish, a veteran low-power radio activist -- is not going to balance off the loss of diversity and local programming that will result if FCC-approved rule changes are implemented.
Dorgan gets it. He's going ahead with the push to overturn Powell's rule changes, an initiative that is being encouraged by MoveOn.org and other activist groups. "The chairman's statements (Wednesday) do nothing to remove the need to revoke these rules," says Dorgan.
The United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, said last night that the UN will continue its work in Iraq, despite Tuesday's devastating car-bomb attack on its headquarters in Baghdad.
The blast killed at least 18 people, including the highly respected UN special representative for Iraq, Brazilian diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello. More than 100 people were also injured in the explosion, which is believed to be the most lethal attack on a UN complex in the body's 58-year history. The bombing follows a spate of attacks on US troops, Iraqis working with the occupation forces and the Iraqi infrastructure.
What should be obvious to all by now was eloquently spelled out by terrorism expert Jessica Stern today on the op-ed page of the New York Times. In "How America Created a Terrorist Haven," Stern--no leftist--makes painfully clear that "America has taken a country that was not a terrorist threat and turned it into one."
As Stern, an author and lecturer at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, explains, the US inability to get basic services functioning and a legitimate government up and running in Iraq has created a situation much more dangerous for American interests than was the case prior to Bush's invasion. "The occupation has given disparate groups from various countries a common battlefield on which to fight a common enemy," Stern rightly insists. "Most ominously, Al Qaeda's influence may be growing."
And for more on the the situation in Iraq, see The Nation's collection of editorials, articles, columns and web reports on Iraqi reconstruction and the postwar situation, (sometimes known as war profiteering). You should also check out both the Common Dreams news site and Tom Englehardt's TomDispatch for regularly-updated links to good news sources on Iraq.
War is a tragedy for some and a boon for others. As American soldiers continue to die in Iraq, and the length of the war and its costs escalate, Halliburton, the company headed by Vice-President Dick Cheney before the Bush Administration took office, announced that it had converted a half billion dollar quarterly loss of a year ago into a quarterly profit of $26 million for the same period in 2003. This profit comes largely from hundreds of millions of dollars in Iraqi rebuilding and oil contracts awarded by the Bush Administration.
But why should war be good for those who have been good to the Republican party? "The Bush Administration," the Baltimore Sun recently reported, "continues to use American corporations to perform work that United Nations agencies and nonprofit aid groups can do more cheaply." "Both for ideological reasons," Paul Krugman observed in the New York Times, "and, one suspects, because of the patronage involved, the people now running the country seem determined to have public services provided by private corporations, no matter what the circumstances."
Representatives Henry Waxman, John Dingell and Maxine Waters are to be commended for monitoring the war profiteers and the conflicts of interest so pervavsive in this Administration. (In March, Waters offered an amendment that would have prohibited the Administration from awarding contracts to companies which had employed senior administration officials. In April, Waxman and Dingell sent letters to the General Accounting Office demanding an investigation into how the Pentagon was handling the bidding process for lucrative contracts for rebuilding Iraq.)
But where's the broader outrage? Isn't the issue of war profiteering a strong one for Democratic Presidential candidates? Or even for common-sense Republicans who put their country before profit? They could lead their party against a President and Vice-President rolling in corporate cash--some of it from companies that have directly profited from war. Where is the leader with the courage to say, as Franklin Roosevelt did during World War II, '"I don't want to see a single war millionaire created in the United States as a result of this world disaster'"? Even Harry Truman, considered a model centrist by DLC types, referred to profiteering during World War II as "treason."
With all due credit to the World Policy Institute's new report ,"New Numbers: The Price of Freedom in Iraq and Power in Washington," let's call for:
*Transparency and Accountabilty: Let's demand a Senate Investigation on war profiteering comparable to the one that Truman conducted at the end of World War Two.
*Curbs on Profiteering: All contracts for the rebuilding of Iraq should be on a limited profit basis, not the open-ended deals that Halliburton and other US contractors have received thus far.
*Legislation which would require all rebuilding contracts for Iraq to be subject to an open bidding process, and a temporary "Truman Committee" to oversee all Iraqi war contracts, as The Nation proposed in an editorial last May.
*Putting the Political Money Machine on Hold: To avoid even the appearance of conflict of interest, Bush and all of his challengers should pledge that they will not accept campaign contributions from companies that have profited from the war in Iraq, or the subsequent rebuilding effort.
Muscular Congressional actions like these would go a long way toward tempering some of the most corrupt practices of this ethically-challenged and political tone-deaf Administration.
How skewed are this Administration's priorities? Consider the insanity of throwing away billions of dollars on hightech military boondoggles like Star Wars that don't work. Or doling out billions in tax giveaways to the richest Americans. If we want true security, shouldn't we be investing in our country's infrastructure--from upgrading our power grid to improving transportation, healthcare and education?
President Bush called the largest blackout in US history a "wakeup call"? (And that after his Administration lobbied against legislation that would have modernized the country's power grid.) Well, maybe Bush and his team need another wakeup call--relating to Iraq. This time last summer, many opponents of the rush to war argued that an invasion and occupation would serve as a recruiting tool for Al-Qaeda, fuel existing anti-Americanism in the region and make the US less secure.
One year later, these concerns seem tragically on target. Just this past weekend, a London-based research company, issued a report saying that the war against Iraq has made America more of a target for terrorist attack. According to the World Markets Reseach Center, the US is now the fourth most likely--of 186 countries surveyed--to be the target of a major terrorist act within the next twelve months. (Colombia, Israel and Pakistan top the list as the only countries with a greater terror risk than the US.)
"Networks of militant Islamist groups," the report observes, "are less extensive in the US than they are Western Europe, but US led military action in Afghanistan and Iraq has exacerbated anti-US sentiment."
And, as the US occupiers endure almost daily casualties--and with shortages of fuel, water and, yes, electricity, precipitating riots and fueling anger among the Iraqi people--it is worth paying attention to the underreported warnings of Ghassan Salameh, a senior UN official and adviser to the late Sergio Vieira de Mello, Kofi Annan's special representative to Iraq, who was killed today in the tragic attack at UN headquarters in Baghdad.
In a recent interview with the French weekly Le Nouvel Observateur, Salameh, a longtime observer of the Arab world, warns that prominent Iraqis who "despised" Saddam Hussein will take up arms against US forces if life under occupation does not quickly improve. "Many influential Iraqis who initally felt liberated from a despised regime have assured me," Salameh reports," that they will take up arms if the coalition troops do not arrive at a result. Time is short."
Salameh warned that ordinary people, frustrated by the lack of basic services four months after Saddam's fall, could rally behind ideological opponents of the occupying forces. "In reality, the population is very surprised," he told the French weekly. "They don't understand how such a level of efficiency during the war could be followed by such a lack of efficiency in ‘peace.'"
The headline in Tuesday's editions of London's Guardian newspaper read: "No. 10 knew: Iraq no threat."
The headline in London's Daily Mirror shouted: "NO THREAT -- Revealed: Email from Blair's top man said Saddam was NOT imminent danger." The lead editorial in The Independent newspaper declared, "Now we know that No 10 did order a rewrite of the dossier to justify war."
For the most part, American media is doing a lousy job of following the British investigation of how Blair and his aides spun the case for war with Iraq. From a journalistic standard, that's bizarre because the story of official deceit in Britain is also the story of official deceit in the United States.
When Bush was trying to con Congress into giving him a blank check to launch a war with Iraq last fall, the president's efforts were hindered by his rather serious credibility gap. Veteran members of the U.S. intelligence community were signaling -- from behind the scenes and, in some cases, publicly -- that they did not buy the argument that Iraq posed a serious enough threat to merit military action. And senior members of the House and Senate, including then-Senate Intelligence Committee chair Bob Graham, who had been reading intelligence reports on Iraq since before Bush entered politics, were asking what had happened that would require a dramatic change in U.S. policy. Other members of Congress, such as Senate Foreign Relations Committee members Russ Feingold, a Democrat, and Lincoln Chafee, a Republican, said the U.S. should focus on the war against terrorism, as opposed to squandering valuable resources on a fight to remove a secular Iraqi leader who had always been at odds with the Islamic fundamentalists of the al-Qaeda network.
Bush was even having trouble with some top Senate Republicans, who were talking about the need to attach some strings to the resolution authorizing the administration to use military force against Iraq.
The president was able to evade those restraints, and to thwart serious Congressional debate on the whole Iraq issue, by flashing around a so-called "intelligence dossier" prepared by the office of British Prime Minister Blair. Widely viewed as a more moderate -- and, thus, credible -- player on the international stage than Bush, Blair was supposed to be the sensible partner in the emerging "coalition of the willing." And the report Blair's office published on September 24, 2002, less than three weeks before Congress approved Bush's request for authority to wage war, was taken seriously in Washington.
Dozens of members of Congress who had expressed doubts about the Bush administration's case for war say they were convinced by the Blair team's claim that Iraq was aggressively developing weapons of mass destruction and that those weapons would soon pose a serious threat to the world. Now, however, it turns out that the dossier was doctored. New revelations from Britain are confirming the skepticism of objective members of Congress -- including Graham, Feingold and Chafee -- who last fall rejected the so-called "evidence" as insufficiently credible to legitimize the blank check.
Britain's independent investigation, which is being led by Lord Hutton, a respected senior jurist, was launched to get to the bottom of questions raised by the apparent suicide of Dr. David Kelly, a British expert on chemical and biological weapons, who helped reporters expose the Blair team's manipulation of intelligence data. But it has turned into a broad examination that is considering information not merely regarding Kelly but the whole question of how Blair and his aides made the case for war.
On Tuesday, Hutton released copies of emails revealed that showed Blair's own chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, had cautioned against using the dossier to claim that Iraq posed anything akin to "an imminent threat."
Seven days before Blair's office released the dossier, Powell emailed top members of the prime minister's team to argue that, "We will need to make it clear in launching the document that we do not claim that he (Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein) is an imminent threat." After reviewing the evidence that had been accumulated, Powell wrote that the information "does nothing to demonstrate a threat, let alone an imminent threat from Saddam."
The most damning line from one of Powell's emails explained that, after reviewing the intelligence data, the prime minister's chief of staff found it so thin that he said it would only be "convincing for those who are prepared to be convinced." As an analysis by The Independent noted, that statement "is extraordinary, and betrays the level of doubt within the Government" about the case that could credibly be made for war.
Blair and his top aides chose to disregard the cautions and hyped the dossier with claims that it confirmed Iraq's WMD program was "active, detailed and growing" and that Iraq might be able to launch a chemical or biological attack within 45 minutes of getting an order to do so. By the time the dossier got to Washington, the Bush team was treating this bogus claim as gospel. And, even after U.S. intelligence agencies warned that Blair's dossier was a dubious document, Bush kept pumping up the supposed evidence.
This week's revelations about the extent to which Blair and his aides massaged and manipulated the intelligence data should suggest to members of the U.S. Congress that simply sitting back and waiting for revelations from the examination of Blair's deceptions is insufficient. It is time for American investigators to determine whether, in the midst of a debate about war and peace, Bush employed weapons of mass deception.