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Lessons of the NBA

One of the big sports stories of the year was the Detroit Pistons' amazing upset of the formidable LA Lakers in the NBA championship series. Paul Richards, veteran Democratic Party activist and onetime member of the Montana House of Representatives, thinks the Pistons' win has lessons for his party in this November's battle.

What I Learned From the NBA Finals
(Detroit Pistons 4-1 over the Los Angeles Lakers)

* That ordinary guys who get in shape, hustle and persevere can win

* That blue collar workers playing pristine ball can upset spoiled rich prima donnas

* That reality can outshine glitter, despite all the PR to the contrary

* That dynasties can fail and storied empires fall

* That radical restructuring can occur at a moment's notice

* That hard work, courage and initiative can create windows of opportunity

* That if we play cohesively as a team and contest every single possession, we can dominate

* That, given the above, domestic regime change is inevitable

Not Quite Harry Potter

Former President Bill Clinton can add another line to his résumé: bestselling author.

Clinton's autobiography, My Life, looks like it could achieve sales of 2 million. It had topped the amazon.com sales list even before its release. And by the time it was officially available, at midnight on Tuesday, crowds were lined up outside the bookstores that were smart enough to stay open. Some even had to put on extra help to handle the demand, providing evidence that, even as an ex-President, Clinton is still better at creating jobs than George W. Bush.

But what is the significance of this latest bout of Clintonmania?

Clintonites will, of course, embrace it with delight. This is the moment they have been waiting for--the return of the king, the renewal of the dream, the restoration of the legacy. They will hope that, as Clinton gets more and more exposure in the days and weeks ahead, voters will recall the period of relative peace and prosperity over which he presided. (The Clinton defenders should also hope that no one brings up the damage that Clinton's misguided trade policies did to American manufacturing.)

Clinton haters will groan from their sinecures as Fox News personalities and commentators. This is their worst nightmare--the overshadowing of Bush II by a dynamic Democrat, the contrasting of the competence that was with the bumbling that is, the reminding of the citizenry that Presidents actually can be articulate. They will hope that, as the media focuses excessive attention of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Americans will somehow be duped into believing that Clinton's lies about infidelity were somehow more troubling than Bush's lies about weapons of mass destruction and other so-called "justifications" for war with Iraq. (It is a vain hope. Americans are smart enough to figure out that, as the bumper sticker reads, "When Bush Lied, People Died.")

For most Americans, who fall somewhere between the Clinton lovers and haters, this Clinton moment will, like the period immediately following Ronald Reagan's death, be a time for casual nostalgia. They will remember why they twice chose Clinton to be their President, and why they probably would have re-elected him if they'd gotten the chance in 2000. That does not mean, however, that they will run out and buy the book--let alone read it.

While some commentators, spying the long lines at bookstores and imbibing liberally of the hype, have taken to referring to My Life as "the adult Harry Potter book of the summer," Clinton's sales will never rival those of the boy wizard.

The vast majority of Americans will learn about the contents of My Life not by reading a copy but by consuming some of the constant coverage provided by the media. Those who purchase the tome are likely to sample from the text rather than read all 957 pages. Some of the few who make it to the end will react as did New York Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani, who concluded that Clinton's book was "sloppy, self-indulgent and often eye-crossingly dull--the sound of one man prattling away, not for the reader, but for himself and some distant recording angel of history." Others will swear, as Clinton's defenders so frequently do, that they saw a glimpse of Camelot somewhere amid those many pages.

The fair analysis of Clinton's book lies somewhere in the middle. Presidential autobiographies generally fail to illuminate, and it appears that Clinton has maintained the tradition. There are few revelations in My Life. But, even if this book is not a page-turner, it does offer more useful insights into the first baby-boomer President's life and political legacy than even more self-serving memoirs did for Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.

Clinton's recollections regarding the Middle East peace process are poignant; his comments on combating terrorism are more informative and instructive than the grumblings of President Bush or Vice President Cheney. And his complaints about the abuses of process and politics committed by not-so-special prosecutor Ken Starr and his minions merit repetition.

Ultimately, however, this latest Clinton moment will be just that: a moment. It is a summer break, nothing more. In a few weeks, the discussion of Clinton will fade. And Americans will focus again on the contest between Bush and Democrat John Kerry for the presidency. The suggestion that all this attention to Clinton will undermine Kerry is comic. Clinton is a more impressive figure than Bush, that's true. But so is Kerry. And a few weeks of focus on Clinton will, when all is said and done, serve as a welcome reminder that in the none too distant past the United States had a President who was competent, articulate and at least reasonably concerned about promoting international cooperation. It is difficult to imagine how that recollection will benefit George W. Bush's re-election prospects.

TNR Sends Its (Limited) Regrets

Wars do not happen on their own. They are initiated and prosecuted by particular people. This rather simple point seems to have eluded many within the offices of The New Republic. In an entire issue of quasi-mea culpa, TNR addresses the question, "Iraq: Were We Wrong?" In the good fashion of a typically fractious family (and that is meant as no insult), the answers from The Editors, Peter Beinart (the editor), Martin Peretz (the editor in chief), Leon Wieseltier (the literary editor), Fouad Ajami (contributing editor)--as well as the contributions from author Paul Berman, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, Newsweek International editor Fareed Zakaria, Brookings Institution fellow Kenneth Pollack, Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum--are often at odds with one another. Yet they generally share a defiantly defensive tone as they sidestep toward, "yes, but." Many boil down to this: "if the war had been run my way, then it wouldn't have been such a screw-up."

Perhaps. But this war was George W. Bush's war (and shared with Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and Condoleezza Rice). And the TNRers who favored an elective war at that particular time were also in favor of handing the keys to a rather expensive, dangerous and difficult-to-drive car to a man whom many of them had already pronounced untrustworthy on other fronts (the 2000 election, the tax cuts, etc.) This may have been the non-conservative hawks' most profound miscalculation. They were blinded by their own desires for war (for the appropriate reasons, of course), and their enthusiasm was not sufficiently tempered by a rather harrowing reality: Bush would have to be the one to get right the occupation, reconstruction and democratization of Iraq--a tremendously challenging set of tasks requiring intelligence, understanding, sophistication, concentration, and open-mindedness. Talk about naive.

The lead editorial does not address this fundamental error committed by the TNR's war boosters. Instead, the editors explain they had supported the war for two reasons: "one primarily strategic, one primarily moral." The "simple" strategic reason was that war was "the only way to ensure that Saddam Hussein never acquired a nuclear weapon." The moral cause was to rid the world of one of the "ghastliest regimes of our time." The editorial concedes that the strategic rationale "now appears to have been wrong," since no evidence has been found of an active nuclear weapons program in Iraq. Before the war, Bush and Cheney repeatedly claimed that Iraq had revived a vigorous nuclear program, but the evidence was weak. Remember the sixteen words in Bush's 2003 State of the Union speech? More importantly, Mohammed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, had reported that his inspectors had "found no evidence of ongoing prohibited nuclear-related activities in Iraq." The editorial acknowledges "we should have paid more attention to these warning signs." Yet it reports, "we feel regret--but no shame." That is because the "moral" rationale--liberating Iraq and countering "the forces of ignorance, fanaticism and bigotry" in the Arab world--has not collapsed. While this argument for war may have been mugged by reality, the magazine argues, it has not been negated.

But before the war, TNR had a different take. In an editorial posted on August 22, 2002, and entitled "Best Case," the editors dismissed going to war because Hussein was evil. ("He is not the only evil leader in the world, and we are not proposing to act against other evil leaders.") It pooh-poohed invading Iraq to bring democracy to Mesopotamia. ("But this, too, cannot explain why the absence of democracy in Iraq is more odious and more threatening than the absence of democracy in many other states.") But there was "one spectacular thing" that made the "villain in Baghdad" an appropriate target: "He is the only leader in the world with weapons of mass destruction who has used them....That is the case."

This editorial did not justify war--and the loss of American and Iraqi lives--with references to exporting freedom to oppressed Iraqis. Nor did it limit the "strategic" mission to preventing Hussein from ramping up a nuclear weapons program. The editors essentially accepted the core of Bush's argument: Hussein had weapons of mass destruction (which meant chemical and biological weapons) and he had used WMDs in the past (in the 1980s, while the Reagan-Bush administration was courting and assisting him). Today's TNR, for some reason, is not fully in touch with its wisdom of 2002.

In a subsequent editorial--"Time Out," posted on January 30, 2003--the magazine did focus more on the prospective nuclear threat posed by Hussein. But much of the editorial's energy was directed at "liberals" and "Bush's critics" for promoting "abject pacifism." This editorial did not address the concerns of war opponents who (with good cause) were questioning Bush's overstatements regarding the WMD threat presented by Iraq and the alleged but unproven connection between Iraq and al Qaeda. Nor did it respond to the arguments that Bush and his lieutenants could not be trusted to handle the post-invasion job correctly. Rather than evaluate--let alone ponder--such inconvenient thoughts, the magazine's editors preferred to ridicule opponents of the war.

In the current package, Wieseltier comes close to granting the opponents of the war credit--though he does not. "If I had known that there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, I would not have supported this war," he writes. He goes on to note, "But I was deceived. Strategic thinking must have an empirical foundation. You do not act against a threat for which there is little or no evidence. Yet that is precisely what the United States did." And that is what foes of the invasion said before the war. Numerous experts countered Secretary of State Colin Powell's presentation at the UN Security Council. Skeptics--those who bothered to look at the hard facts, to review the UN inspections reports, to consider the available intelligence and pre-9/11 statements of the Bush administration--asked for the "empirical foundation" of the threat hawked by Bush, but the case presented by the administration remained slim. And Bush's melodramatic overselling of the arguments for war--his claim that Iraq was sitting on "massive stockpiles" of unconventional weapons, his assertion that Hussein was "dealing with" al Qaeda, his comment that it was possible Iraq already had nuclear weapons--justifiably enhanced suspicion.

Wieseltier does accuse Bush of misleading the nation. "There was nothing to preempt," he writes. "It really is as plain as that. An absence of regrets and recrimination on the part of a supporter of this war now amounts to an absence of intellectual honesty....Whether or not the president lied, he was not speaking he truth." Wieseltier reports he continues to support the war, but adds, "I have come to despise some of the people who are directing it." Bush detractors who saw through the mis- or disinformation can belatedly welcome Wieseltier to the club, though he is unlikely to celebrate membership in this group.

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After you read this article, check out David Corn's NEW WEBLOG on the Bushlies.com site.

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For his part, Beinart explains that his major lapse was that he tried too much "not to be partisan" in analyzing the case for war. He maintains he "distrusted" the Bush administration, but yearned to transcend that distrust. In doing so, he recalls, he could "feel superior to the Democrats." Now, he concludes, his "efforts not to be limited proved limiting." He did not realize that the Bush crowd would place "ideology over expertise." But there were obvious indications before the war this was Bush's M.O. His White House locked out State Department experts. Military predictions (and plans) that caused too much inconvenience were dismissed.

Prior to the war, Beinart questioned the critics (rather harshly) more than the administration he "distrusted." In seeking a partial explanation for Beinart's attitude toward the debate over the war, it is tough to refrain from referring to that cliche about Middle East alliances: the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Thus, TNR ended up in partnership with--or a foot soldier for--a man it neither trusted or respected.

Juxtaposed against Beinart's I-tried-too-hard apologia, Peretz's onward-to-glory piece--no reconsideration at all--is refreshing. For him, the war remains "just " and "honorable" because it has brought freedom to Iraqis. He says nothing of Bush's prewar justifications. There is no mention of WMDs or the al Qaeda connection. He still seems overjoyed that the United States defeated an Arab tyrant, whatever may come next. But he is not entirely candid. "Alas," Peretz observes, "we Americans do not naturally look to history for cautionary lessons about the future. Had we done that, our post-Saddam expectations would have been different. But we didn't, and so we couldn't anticipate that the various peoples of Iraq, understandably apprehensive about anyone in power, would not take our good intentions for granted." What do you mean "we," paleface? Before the war, many experts on Arab history and society cautioned that this was possible, if not likely, and warned that the post-invasion period would be rife with exactly the sort of resentments and troubles that "we" have seen.

It is difficult to assess whether the mistakes of TNRers were prompted by hubris or innocence. Berman writes that he "tried to persuade people that severe opposition justifies intervention, no matter what other explanations Bush may have offered." Which means he was willing to cheer on a president who conceivably had a rather different vision of the war and suitable outcomes. Berman concedes, "military professionals can't outperform their commanders back in Washington, I suppose." That is little consolation for those who have bore the costs. Friedman reports that he never believed Saddam possessed WMDs "that could threaten us." But, he writes, "Once it was clear to me that the Bush team had chosen a warpath, I wanted to see it done in a way that maximized the chances for a decent outcome in Iraq that could help tilt the Arab-Muslim world onto a more positive slope." But this acknowledges he was willing to support a war based and sold on a lie and to back a "team" that would not be honest with the American public and the world. Can a war fought for the wrong reason by a bunch of dissemblers end well? Such a war does seem, at least, a riskier venture than a war fought for the right reason by leaders of integrity. Ajami writes, "For me, it was a just war that issued out of a deep American frustration with the 'road rage' of the Arab world." But how has this act of frustration addressed the rage other than to intensify and spread it? "We have rolled history's dice," Ajami writes. Come back in 20 years, he advises, and we shall see if we won the gamble.

It might take The New Republic that long to concede its opponents in the prewar debate were correct on key points. Peretz and several of his comrades act as if their post-invasion realizations are bolts from blue, when, in fact, they were the arguments they dismissed--or derided--when it mattered most. In this we're-not-sorry special issue, Kenneth Pollack's piece stands out. He recounts a debate he had in the fall of 2002 with Bill Galston, a University of Maryland professor and former colleague of his in the Clinton administration. Galston held up a copy of Pollack's book, The Threatening Storm, and said, "If we were going to get Ken Pollack's war, I could be persuaded to support it. But we are not going to get Ken Pollack's war; we are going to get George Bush's war, and that is a war I will not support."

Pollack says that several months ago he sent Galston a note conceding he had been right. "The primary cause of our current problems in Iraq," Pollack writes, "is the reckless, and often foolish, manner in which this administration has waged the war and the reconstruction....The thought that nags at me the most is that I, too, should have foreseen what Bill Galston did--that the Bush administration would not fight the war properly." He adds, "the willingness of members of the Bush administration to abandon their past records of prudence and match Saddam's reckless and delusional behavior with their own may have been the most important element missing from my own thinking about the war." Pollack remarks that he remains "deeply torn about the decision to invade Iraq." (Note to Beinart: how about a cover piece: "I Was Right," by Bill Galston?)

It may be too much to expect the (somewhat) hesitant hawks of The New Republic to have questioned the invasion of Iraq on the basis of eschewing unilateralism, abiding by interpretations of international law that proscribe such an invasion, or resisting a preemptive military strike and occupation until all other courses of action were considered and attempted. But there were plenty of signs (though Pollack takes issue with this) that the Bush administration was hyping the threat and not adequately preparing for the invasion and the occupation. And the clever thinkers at TNR should have been smart enough to have absorbed Galston's warning: no matter how clever they were, this would not be their war. It would not be fought for or on their terms. Thinking otherwise was their big mistake. The reluctant regretters of TNR were either duped by Bush or by themselves--or, maybe, both. They are not yet ready to admit that. Let's hope that matters in Iraq do not disintegrate to such a degree that they are forced to reconsider the limited extent of their regrets.

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DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! An UPDATED and EXPANDED EDITION is NOW AVAILABLE in PAPERBACK. The Washington Post says, "This is a fierce polemic, but it is based on an immense amount of research....[I]t does present a serious case for the president's partisans to answer....Readers can hardly avoid drawing...troubling conclusions from Corn's painstaking indictment." The Los Angeles Times says, "David Corn's The Lies of George W. Bush is as hard-hitting an attack as has been leveled against the current president. He compares what Bush said with the known facts of a given situation and ends up making a persuasive case." The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations....Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." And GEORGE W. BUSH SAYS, "I'd like to tell you I've read [ The Lies of George W. Bush], but that'd be a lie."

For more information and a sample, go to the official website: www.bushlies.com. And check out Corn's blog on the site.

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Clinton & Bush--the Truth, the Lies, the Consequences

When former Clinton special prosecutor Kenneth Starr resurfaced in a sanctimonious interview on PBS's new Tucker Carlson: Unfiltered last Friday, it seemed like a nightmarish time warp. This right-wing legal zealot, who twisted the law into a political vendetta, quoted from the scriptures at least three times during the eight-minute interview. When asked what Clinton had done wrong, Starr fumbled lamely, and directed Carlson to "the referral." The prosecutor who abused his legal discretion (according to many legal experts, including former Iran/contra independent counsel Lawrence Walsh ) couldn't admit that his exhaustive investigation came up with nothing, yet cost taxpayers over $70 million and consumed the time of twenty-eight attorneys and seventy-eight FBI agents over four years. (For more on Starr's abuse of power, see the just-released documentary The Hunting of the President, based on Joe Conason and Gene Lyon's bestselling book of the same name.)

(When asked why the once bitterly hostile inquisitor seemed so mellow these days, one of the show's senior producers grinned and speculated that it was a side effect from Viagra.)

The political strategist Niccolo Machiavelli once observed that the proper place for saints was in the convent, not the councils of state. He also advised citizens and their representatives to take ruthless action against leaders who steal from the public purse or subvert constitutions. Wise advice as we reflect on how historically disproportionate was the punishment demanded of Clinton to the crime. The Nation still has its problems with the former President--but they have to do with his policies when it came to welfare "reform," Rwanda and dealing with post-Communist Russia. Those were Clinton's wrongdoing--not illicit sex and attempts to conceal it.

Yet, for a personal indiscretion, the former President was persecuted by an ethically challenged special prosecutor, at great cost to the nation's business. Yet where is the special prosecutor to investigate President Bush who, according to many legal experts, has committed war crimes, manipulated intelligence to mislead us into a war that was unnecessary and illegal (and that has already cost thousands of American and Iraqi lives, and wounded and maimed tens of thousands), shredded fundamental constitutional safeguards, subverted international law and sanctioned torture?

On a lighter note, last summer I suggested that parents use President Bush's (mis)behavior as a way to talk to their children about values like telling the truth, telling lies and the consequences:

posted 07/31/2003 @ 09:44am
Parenting in 2003

On the eve of the Clinton Impeachment hearings in 1998, The Sexuality Information and Education Council (SIECUS) sent out "Ten Tips for Talking about the Starr Report with Your Children."

"The upcoming impeachment hearing," SIECUS president Debra Haffner advised, "provides parents with a special opportunity to talk to their children about sexuality issues.... The question parents need to ask is 'Who do I want to tell my children about this sad situation?' Another child on the playground? An acquaintance on the school bus? They are unlikely to tell your children the facts in a clear way. And only YOU can give YOUR children YOUR values."

It's now 2003 and if the events of these last weeks don't provide parents with that special opportunity to talk to their children about the president and values like truth, lies and consequences, then I don't know what does.

So, with all due credit to SIECUS, here are Tips for Talking about President Bush with Your Children:

*1) Think about your values as they relate to this situation. What are your family's values about telling the truth? What would you do if your child lied to you and when you scolded him or her, s/he replied: "I am not a fact-checker." Or added, "Isn't it time to move on?"

*2) Ask your children to tell you what words mean to them. Explain that words have consequences and lies can come in two, six or sixteen words.

*3) Clarify facts. Give short, age-appropriate answers. Explain that shifting strategies at damage control only lead to more unanswered questions. Make clear that even if facts are malleable for President Bush, they're not malleable in your home. Explain that even though the White House strategy may be to say whatever is necessary, even if they have to admit later that what they said the first time wasn't exactly true, you don't do it that way yourself.

*4) Use these talks with your child to encourage good decision-making. Let them know that if they grow up to become president and lead a nation into war, the right thing to do is take responsibility for their words and acts. (This is a good opportunity to explain what the saying "the buck stops here" means.)

*5) Use television news as a springboard for discussion. However, do not let children younger than 13 watch this coverage alone. It can be ugly and disturbing for children to watch the President and his aides scapegoat their subordinates with so little compunction.

*6) Help your children understand the larger issues. Let them know that it's not just about sixteen words. You could explain that there appears to be a pattern of dishonesty well beyond the uranium scandal that is extremely worrisome. Explain that the American people are entitled to the truth and they have a right to know if President Bush, Vice President Cheney or any White House officials misrepresented the facts to justify war.

*7) Keep the lines of communication open. Talk. Remember that this is not a one-time or a one-way discussion. Your children need your ongoing support in dealing with their President's tenuous relationship to the truth. Unfortunately, this sad situation is currently a fixed element of the political landscape they are growing up in.

A version of this weblog was published on the op-ed page of [the July 30, 2003] Boston Globe.

Bush Spin Continues on al Qaeda Link

The defenders of George W. Bush are having a difficult time with the 9/11 commission report that declared no "collaborative relationship" existed between al Qaeda and Iraq. Before the war, Bush claimed that one reason that Saddam Hussein was a threat to the United States was that he was "dealing with al Qaeda." (He was referring to present-day "dealing.") The 9/11 commission report challenges that key assertion. And the dogs of war have been barking since its release.

After Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell challenged the independent and bipartisan commission's finding (see here), last night on CNBC, Vice President Cheney maintained the 9/11 commission's conclusion was "not true." He referred to the case of Musab Abu al-Zarqawi and claimed that Baghdad had given him sanctuary in 2002. Zarqawi, Cheney said, "was allowed to operate out of Baghdad. He ran the poisons factory in northern Iraq out of Baghdad, which became a safe harbor for Ansar al-Islam [a fundamentalist terrorist group]....There clearly was a relationship there that stretched back over that period of time to at least May of '02."

Zarqawi is a murderous thug. He apparently was the fellow who beheaded Nick Berg. He is accused of having killed an American in Jordan and being behind many of the post-invasion terrorism acts in Iraq. Supporters of the war--especially neocons--have pointed to his presumed presence in Baghdad before the war as strong evidence of an al Qaeda-Hussein connection. But the Zarqawi-in-Baghdad episode remain murky. At first, the story was that he had been in Baghdad to have a leg amputated. But a few weeks ago, at an American Enterprise Institute conference, Stephen Hayes, a writer for the Weekly Standard who has written a book on the purported al Qaeda-Iraq connection, told the audience that apparently the reason for Zarqawi's stay in Baghdad was now believed to be a sinus or nasal problem.

It seems there needs to be more work on this front before the Zarqawi matter is resolved. And even though Zarqawi is routinely described as an al Qaeda associate, the true nature of his relationship to bin Laden is unclear. As I have previously noted, earlier this year, when Zarqawi asked al Qaeda for assistance in fomenting civil war in Iraq, al Qaeda, according to US intelligence officers, rejected his request. Also, the Ansar al-Islam band that Zarqawi worked with was based in northern Iraq, in territory not controlled by Baghdad. (Its leader also has said that this fundamentalist group was opposed to Hussein.) Northern Iraq was a "safe harbor" (as Cheney put it) for Ansar al-Islam in part because it was a US-enforced no-fly zone. Again as I previously noted, NBC reported that in 2002 and 2003, the Pentagon wanted to attack Zarqawi's camp in northern Iraq, and the White House said no. If Zarqawi was indeed an al Qaeda partner and in league with Hussein, why not?

Before the war, CIA chief George Tenet told the Senate intelligence committee that while Zarqawi had received funds from bin Laden, he "conceives of himself as being quite independent" from al Qaeda and was not under al Qaeda's control or direction. Tenet also said that Zarqawi and his associates were in Baghdad, but that Hussein's regime did not operate, control or sponsor his network. ( Tenet, however, added, "It is inconceivable to us that the Iraqi intelligence service doesn't know that they live there or what they're doing." He had nothing more concrete to say about this. )

This is not to say that there was no relationship at any time between Zarqawi and al Qaeda or that Zarqawi had no contacts with the Iraqi regime. The key issue is whether there was, as Bush melodramatically claimed, a working relationship between al Qaeda and Iraq before the invasion. The Zarqawi story--murky as it is-- does not prove Bush's assertion that al Qaeda and Hussein's government were operational allies.

On CNBC, Cheney was asked by host Gloria Borger about the allegation that Mohamed Atta, the ringleader of the 9/11 hijackers, met with an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague five months before September 11. On numerous occasions when he has been asked whether Iraq had anything to do with 9/11, Cheney has referred to this charge--even after the CIA and the FBI had investigated it and concluded the allegation was most likely untrue. On CNBC, Cheney said of the Atta-in-Prague story, "we've never been able to confirm it or to knock it down. We just don't know." Well, this may be a true statement in the most narrow of terms, for--to be epistemological about it--how do we ever know anything. But the 9/11 commission has joined the CIA and the FBI in saying this allegation is probably false. "Based on the evidence available--including investigation by Czech and US authorities plus detainee reporting--we do not believe such a meeting occurred," the commission says. (And the US has had this particular Iraqi intelligence officer in its custody for about a year. Apparently he has denied the meeting took place.)

So after the CIA, the FBI and 9/11 commission conclude there is no evidence to back up this charge, how responsible is it for Cheney to continue to insist this matter remains an open question? Such stubbornness (to be polite about it) does not inspire confidence in the other arguments he puts forward regarding the purported al Qaeda-Iraq connection.

In discussing whether was a "general relationship" between Iraq and al Qaeda, Cheney claimed such an alliance was developed and that he "probably" has more information on this than the 9/11 commission. "In the fall of '95 and again in the summer of '96, bin Laden met with Iraqi intelligence service representatives at his farm in Sudan," Cheney maintained. "Bin Laden asked for terror training from Iraq."This assertion is mostly consistent with what the commission reports:

"A senior Iraqi intelligence officer reportedly made visits to Sudan, finally meeting Bin Ladin in 1994. Bin Ladin is said to have requested space to establish training camps, as well as assistance in procuring weapons."

Then the two stories diverge. Cheney said, "The Iraqi intelligence service responded; they deployed a bomb-making expert, a brigadier general in the Iraqi intelligence service." But the commission notes, "Iraq apparently never responded."

This is a major discrepancy. And Lee Hamilton, the Democratic vice-chairman of the commission, seems confused by it. On June 17, he remarked, "I must say I have trouble understanding the flap over this [the purported al Qaeda-Iraq relationship]. The Vice President is saying, I think, that there were connections between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's government. We don't disagree with that, so it seems to me the sharp differences that the press has drawn -- the media has drawn are not that apparent to me." But Cheney--who does see a "sharp difference" between his position and the commission's--has said these connections led to Iraq providing operational assistance; the commission concludes they did not.

Given Cheney's prewar record of accuracy--he claimed Hussein had amassed WMDs to use against the United States, that Hussein had revived his nuclear weapons program--his statements on the contacts between al Qaeda and Iraq (and what came of them) cannot be accepted at face value. If the administration has evidence that Iraq did assist al Qaeda, it should produce it and resolve the question--especially because Bush, before the war, used this particular allegation to drum up support for the invasion of Iraq. He said, "Iraq has sent bombmaking and document forgery experts to work with al Qaeda. Iraq has also provided al Qaeda with chemical and biological weapons training." He did not say that this had happened eight years earlier. But the administration owes it to the public to clear up this issue.

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After you read this article, check out David Corn's NEW WEBLOG on the Bushlies.com site.

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The best spin so far has come from Andrew McCarthy, a former assistant US attorney who led the 1995 terrorism prosecution against Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and eleven others. Writing for National Review Online McCarthy argues that the commission's report does not say what the media reported it says. What the commission really meant to say, McCarthy claims, is, "We have no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States." (Emphasis his.) Go back and read the paragraph in dispute. (Find it here.) It is quite hard to come up with McCarthy's interpretation. Even Cheney noted that the commission had concluded there was no "general relationship"; he just happened to disagree with the finding. And yesterday, as a full dustup was under way, Philip Zelikow, the executive director of the commission (and a former Bush I National Security Council staffer who later cowrote a book with Condoleezza Rice and served on the Bush II transition team), observed that the report was referring to a lack of evidence of "operational" ties between Hussein and al Qaeda. The commission has not said it was only considering a relationship focused on anti-American attacks.

McCarthy also--breathlessly--points to a line that appeared in a 1998 indictment of bin Laden to disprove the 9/11 commission. It reads, "Al Qaeda reached an understanding with the government of Iraq that al Qaeda would not work against that government and that on particular projects, specifically including weapons development, al Qaeda would work cooperatively with the Government of Iraq." Conservative and neocon promoters of an al Qaeda-Iraq connection repeatedly wave this sentence in public.

As it happens, this sentence was addressed at the 9/11 commission hearing held on June 16. Trying to rescue the administration from the commission's report, Fred Fielding, a Republican commissioner, asked Patrick Fitzgerald, now a US attorney in Illinois, who oversaw the 1998 African bombing case, about this May 1998 indictment. Fitzgerald told him that "when we superseded [that indictment], which meant we broadened the charges in the fall, we dropped that language." He added, "I think we are in full agreement with the [9/11 commission] staff statement in terms of the Iraq-al Qaeda relationship at this time....I think the staff statement did an excellent job of representing...our current understanding."

McCarthy did not mention this exchange or note that the Justice Department dropped that language apparently because it was unsure of the material. He does write, "I am not suggesting that bin Laden's ties to Iraq were as extensive as his connections to Afghanistan. But as is the case with Iraq, no one has yet tied the Taliban to a direct attack on the United States, although no one doubts for a moment that deposing the Taliban post-9/11 was absolutely the right thing to do." Yes it was-- because the Taliban had a close partnership with al Qaeda and was permitting bin Laden and his murderers to operate from its territory.

The issue stirred up by the 9/11 commission is whether Bush overstated the threat from Iraq prior to the war. He claimed Hussein had WMDs and was at that moment in league ("dealing with") al Qaeda. (In his May 1 speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, he called Hussein an "ally" of al Qaeda.) Challenged on this, the Bush administration and its allies point to "contacts" that occurred in the mid-1990s (which may or may not have led to anything), to an allegation dismissed by the CIA and the FBI about a single meeting in Prague (and unless one knows what was said in such a conversation, its relevance cannot be judged), and to an A-to-B-to-C connection supposedly involving Zarqawi as the missing, middle link.

All of this possible evidence--call them hints, clues, indications, unconnected dots--was reason to worry about al Qaeda and Iraq hooking up. But it does not prove the two were operational allies, as Bush suggested. He could have argued for war by saying that the prospect of an al Qaeda-Iraq alliance was too frightening and dangerous. That Hussein, who had WMDs in the past, might have some left over or might be developing new ones. That Hussein's regime, which once had contacts with bin Laden, might forge an anti-American partnership with bin Laden. And that if this were to happen and Hussein did come to possess WMDs, the threat to the United States would be deadly serious. If Bush had presented this sort of case, then the public could have had an honest debate on the merits of going to war at that particular time.

This is not what Bush did. He misrepresented the known facts and used exaggerations to support his argument for war. And now he and his cheerleaders have to make the case for war with whatever bits of information (or misinformation) they can dig up. Isn't that doing things backward?

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DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! An UPDATED and EXPANDED EDITION is NOW AVAILABLE in PAPERBACK. The Washington Post says, "This is a fierce polemic, but it is based on an immense amount of research....[I]t does present a serious case for the president's partisans to answer....Readers can hardly avoid drawing...troubling conclusions from Corn's painstaking indictment." The Los Angeles Times says, "David Corn's The Lies of George W. Bush is as hard-hitting an attack as has been leveled against the current president. He compares what Bush said with the known facts of a given situation and ends up making a persuasive case." The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations....Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." And GEORGE W. BUSH SAYS, "I'd like to tell you I've read [ The Lies of George W. Bush], but that'd be a lie."

For more information and a sample, go to the official website: www.bushlies.com. And check out Corn's blog on the site.

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Powell and Bush Spin Away on al Qaeda Link

It must be hard to be Colin Powell--that is, it must be tough to have to keep defending an administration that makes dramatic assertions untethered from known facts. But that's what Powell, the (mostly) loyal lieutenant, was doing yesterday, as he shilled for his president regarding the supposed link between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.

Earlier in the day, the 9/11 commission issued a report that declared there was no evidence of any "collaborative relationship" between Iraq and al Qaeda. (For a summation and a to-the-point analysis, see my blog entry on this.) The day before that, George W. Bush offered his "best evidence" of such a link, but he botched the facts and misrepresented the truth. His "evidence" was, at best, flimsy. In fact, it could be considered evidence that there was no significant link between Hussein and al Qaeda. (For the stunning details, click here.) Remember, the purported al Qaeda-Hussein bond was a primary argument for Bush's war. Prior to the invasion, Bush claimed that Hussein was an "immediate" threat because he possessed weapons of mass destruction and at any given moment could slip them to his good pals in al Qaeda. As Bush put it, "he's a threat because he is dealing with al Qaeda." Without those WMDs, without the al Qaeda connection, what's left of Bush's main justification for the war?

After the 9/11 commission released its report dismissing the idea of an al Qaeda-Hussein partnership, I predicted the ensuing White House spin would be dizzying. And the first to run in circles was the Secretary of State. In an interview with Hafiz Mirazi of Al-Jazeera television, the following exchange occurred:

MirzaiI: Mr. Secretary, let me start first with the reports coming out of the conclusion of the 9/11 congressional investigative commission that they concluded that there is no evidence or critical evidence, whatsoever, of any link between al-Qaida and the regime of Saddam Hussein, or that Saddam Hussein did help al-Qaida in targeting the US. And the reports are saying this is in contradiction with the Bush administration. What would be your comment?

Powell: I have seen some press reports that suggest things like that, but I haven't seen the 9/11 report yet. So until they actually do issue the report, it will be premature for me to comment on such a speculation. I think it's better we all wait and see the report and see what it says.

Mirzai: But as far as the administration is concern, for the record now, it is still the US position of the administration that the regime of Saddam Hussein did help al-Qaida in targeting the US?

Powell: I think we have said, and it is clear, that there is a connection, and we have seen these connections between al-Qaida and the regime of Saddam Hussein and we stick with that. We have not said it was related to 9/11. So, you know, this is the commission that was looking into 9/11. But we have indicated that we have seen terrorist links with Saddam Hussein and his regime and some linkages with Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida.

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After you read this article, check out David Corn's NEW WEBLOG on the Bushlies.com site.

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The 9/11 commission--an independent, bipartisan panel being managed by Philip Zelikow, a Bush I NSC official and a onetime coauthor with Condoleezza Rice--says there were some contacts between al Qaeda and Iraq (mainly years before 9/11) but that these did not lead to an alliance. In other words, contacts do not make a connection. But let's flashback to a January 8, 2004 press conference in which Powell was asked about the alleged al Qaeda-Hussein relationship:

Question: On the subject of weapons of mass destruction, Mr. Secretary, one of the other conclusions of that [Carnegie Endowment for International Peace] report was that there was no evidence of a connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida and that there was no evidence of a likelihood that he would transfer weapons to al-Qaida. What do you think about that, looking back? And I know that, you know, hindsight is 20/20, but to think back....Do you think that there were ways other than war to have handled this threat and that the--that it was not an imminent threat to the United States?

Powell: My presentation [to the UN Security Council] on the 5th of February [2003] when I talked to this issue made it clear that we had seen some links and connections to terrorist organizations over time, and I focused on one particular case, Zawahiri, and I think that was a pretty solid case. [Editor's note: he meant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.] There is not -- you know, I have not seen smoking-gun, concrete evidence about the connection, but I think the possibility of such connections did exist and it was prudent to consider them at the time that we did.

So now, in the face of the 9/11 commission's report, Powell says that "there is a connection." But in January, he said that there was no "concrete evidence" and that only a "possibility of such connections did exist." Which is it? And what will Bush say when asked about the commission's finding?

UPDATE: Well, no sooner had I written the last sentence in the above paragraph, Bush did comment on the 9/11 commission's reports. Following a meeting with his Cabinet at the White House, he declared, "There was a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda." He added, "We did say there were numerous contacts between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, for example, Iraqi intelligence officers met with bin Laden, the head of al Qaeda, in Sudan."

But Bush is transforming contacts into a relationship. The commission's point was that these contacts did not turn into a relationship. And if Iraqi intelligence agents did meet with bin Laden in Sudan, they did so before 1996, when bin Laden shifted his operations to Afghanistan. The existence of such contacts five years before 9/11 tells us nothing about any "relationship" that might have existed in the time before or after September 11.

Bush also said, Hussein "was a threat because he provided safe haven for a terrorist like al-Zarqawi who is still killing innocents inside Iraq." Neoconservative supporters of the war have claimed that the (supposed) fact that Zarqawi received medical attention in Baghdad before the war indicates that he was in league with Hussein's regime. But the Zarqawi-in-Baghdad episode remains sketchy. And, as I noted here, Zarqawi has been linked to Ansar al-Islam, a fundamentalist terrorist outfit that claimed it was opposed to Hussein and that (prior to the war) operated out of northern Iraq, in territory not controlled by Hussein's regime.

By the way, on March 2, NBC News reported that "long before the war the Bush administration had several chances to wipe out [Zarqawi's] terrorist operation and perhaps kill Zarqawi himself--but never pulled the trigger." Three times in 2002 and 2003, according to this report, the Pentagon drew up plans to attack Zarqawi in his camp in northern Iraq. Yet the White House said no. According to NBC News, "Military officials insist their case for attacking Zarqawi's operation was airtight, but the administration feared destroying the terrorist camp in Iraq could undercut its case for war against Saddam."

If this report was true, it should be big news. The White House had Zarqawi in its sights. Yet Bush officials believed that if they took him out, they would lose an argument for war. (At his presentation to the UN, Powell tried to use Zarqawi to link al Qaeda to Hussein.) So did politics trump a national security decision? Did the administration allow to roam free a terrorist who would become perhaps the biggest threat to American GIs in Iraqi today? Is Bush now playing politics with the truth by insisting there was a connection between al Qaeda and Hussein, even though the more objective members of the 9/11 commission--who have had access to the intelligence reporting on this dicey matter--have reviewed the record and found no compelling evidence of a signficant relationship?

At this point, if Bush--who keeps mischaracterizing the Zarqawi connection--wants anyone to believe him rather than the 9/11 commission, he better present hard and clear evidence. All that he offers is assertions and misrepresentations. No wonder he initially opposed the creation of the 9/11 commission. It can be awfully irritating to be confronted with a factual record and reasonable analysis.

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DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! An UPDATED and EXPANDED EDITION is NOW AVAILABLE in PAPERBACK. The Washington Post says, "This is a fierce polemic, but it is based on an immense amount of research....[I]t does present a serious case for the president's partisans to answer....Readers can hardly avoid drawing...troubling conclusions from Corn's painstaking indictment." The Los Angeles Times says, "David Corn's The Lies of George W. Bush is as hard-hitting an attack as has been leveled against the current president. He compares what Bush said with the known facts of a given situation and ends up making a persuasive case." The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations....Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." And GEORGE W. BUSH SAYS, "I'd like to tell you I've read [ The Lies of George W. Bush], but that'd be a lie."

For more information and a sample, go to the official website: www.bushlies.com. And check out Corn's blog on the site.

************

Former Bush (41) and Reagan Officials Say Bush (43) Must Go

Today a group of former senior diplomatic officials and retired military commanders--several of whom are the kind who "have never spoken out before" on such matters--issued a bracing statement arguing that George W. Bush has damaged the country's national security and calling on Americans to defeat him in November. It's too early to tell if the statement will have an impact on this fall's campaign. But Diplomats and Military Commanders for Change, as the group is called, reveals (again) how dangerously isolated the Bush Administration is not just around the world but even from America's own bipartisan foreign policy and military establishments.

This latest missive, as the LA Times and the Washington Post reported last Sunday, is being sent by Democratic and Republican officials who refuse to stay silent in the face of Bush's extremist and ideological foreign policy which, they say, is squandering America's moral standing. These signatories aren't exactly a Who's Who of the American left.

Jack Matlock, who served as Reagan and Bush 41's ambassador to the Soviet Union, has signed the statement, as has Ret. Adm. William Crowe, who served as Reagan's Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Retired Marine Gen. Joseph Hoar has added his name to the list, and he commanded US forces in the Middle East under Bush Sr. Phyllis Oakley, who served as a State Department spokesperson under Reagan, is another signatory. The vast majority of the signatories are, in fact, either conservative Republicans who served under Reagan and Bush 41 or they are bipartisan, consensus-driven ex-diplomats who served their country from Africa to Asia because they believed in America's leadership role around the world.

Now they feel so enraged by Bush's extremist foreign policies that they can no longer stand by as this Administration makes America less secure by upending alliances and alienating much of the world. Against the metastasizing scandal of Abu Ghraib; the botched postwar occupation of Iraq; and the Administration's lies about WMDs in Iraq in the run-up to the war, these old hands are now taking an uncompromising, intelligent stand against what they see as the most arrogant, unilateral and incompetent foreign policy in their adult lifetimes.

Today's signatories join a large and growing chorus of former senior officials who, as I first noted in a July 2003 weblog, were so enraged by Bush's conduct of the Iraq war that sitting on the sidelines simply wasn't an option for them. John Brady Kiesling, now a retired diplomat, led the charge in February 2003 when he courageously quit his foreign-service job with the American Embassy in Athens, and wrote a stinging rebuke to Bush's headlong rush to wage a war in Iraq. Then another career diplomat Gregory Thielmann went public, telling Bill Moyers that Iraq didn't pose an "imminent security threat" to America. Thielmann attacked Bush for hyping intelligence reports and for misleading the American people about the need to go to war in the Middle East. The Administration, he said, "has had a faith-based intelligence attitude.We know the answers--give us the intelligence to support those answers'."

Around the same time, retired military commanders were growing aghast at Bush's utterly inept lack of planning for the occupation of Iraq. That's why, for example, the former Centcom commander Gen. Anthony Zinni ultimately went on 60 Minutes last month and argued that if Bush stayed on the current course in Iraq, America was "headed over Niagara Falls." Hoar, the retired Marine general, has publicly declared that the United States is "absolutely on the brink of failure" in Iraq.

Meanwhile, other former ambassadors and career foreign-service officers began speaking up, each in their own way and on their own timetables. GOP strategists with ties to the White House were quick and shameless in denigrating those who've spent their life serving the national interest.

Ronald Spiers, the former Ambassador to Turkey and Pakistan and well versed in the politics of the Middle East, argued that W.'s policies have unraveled our most important alliances around the globe. Spiers faulted Bush for causing us to lose "a lot of our international partnerships. We've lost a lot of lives. We've lost a lot of money for something that wasn't justified."

William Harrop, a former ambassador to Kenya and Israel, spoke for many in the diplomatic corps, and I suspect for even some former Bush I officials like Brent Scowcroft, when he said: "I really am essentially a Republican. I voted for George Bush's father, and I voted for George Bush. But what we got was not the George Bush we voted for." And former ambassador Joseph Wilson has reminded Americans of just how many lies the Administration was willing to make in its quest to convince people that Iraq posed a nuclear threat to the United States.

Then, of course, there are the high-level NSC officials who, after getting a ringside seat for Bush's bungling national security strategies, decided that enough was enough, and that now was the season to speak up and take a stand. Rand Beers left W.'s White House after serving under Reagan and Bush I, and he is now running foreign policy operations for John Kerry's presidential campaign. Richard Clarke, is one of the most experienced counterterrorism officials America has produced in the last three decades; he, too, could no longer stand idly by as the Administration pursued a fool's errand by starting a war against Iraq.

Just last month, as I noted in another weblog, a separate group of fifty-three ex-diplomats and other high-level national security officials wrote a letter to Bush in which they excoriated the President for sacrificing America's credibility in the Arab world and squandering America's status as honest broker in the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

The statement issued today marks the high-water point of dissent among diplomats and military commanders who cannot stomach Bush any longer, but there is still time, and a need, for more high-level officials to come forward and voice their opposition to policies that are undermining our security.

The anger towards W., and the antipathy towards his extremely dangerous policies has now, at long last, reached a critical mass. Today's statement reveals just how extremist the Administration's approach has been, and the staggering stupidity of their radical ideologies. This letter is a profound wake-up call to all Americans: George W. Bush must be defeated.

Granny D Wants to be Senator D

If the voters of New Hampshire approve, "Granny D" would like very much to become "Senator D."

The 94-year-old activist, who won national attention and acclaim from the likes of US Senators John McCain and Russ Feingold when she walked 3,200 miles across the United States to promote campaign finance reform in 1999 and 2000, is preparing to take another unprecedented journey--on the campaign trail.

Doris "Granny D" Haddock will formally announce Thursday that she is challenging Republican US Senator Judd Gregg, who is seeking a third term representing New Hampshire. And her "down home" campaign could well turn out to be one of the most provocative and inspired candidacies this country has seen in years. She is already assured of the Democratic nomination, and calls are coming in from young activists who want to trek to New Hampshire to help the nation's oldest political newcomer.

"We're moving things around in the house to make it a headquarters," Granny D. said from her Dublin, New Hampshire, home. "And we're setting things up in the yard so that the young people who want to work on the campaign can pitch tents."

Needless to say, Granny D.'s candidacy will not resemble the cookie-cutter campaigns run by most senatorial contenders. While senate candidates usually spend years preparing to make their races, Granny D. decided to run only last week, after the expected Democratic candidate against Gregg, state Senator Burt Cohen, folded his campaign. Cohen has been mounting a feisty, if uphill, challenge to Gregg, but his prospects were doomed when reports began to surface that his campaign manager had gone missing, along with what was left of his campaign fund. There was no suggestion that Cohen had done anything wrong, but the controversy promised to make a continued candidacy impossible. So Cohen called fellow Democrats last Thursday and said he was dropping out.

With less than twenty-four hours to go before the filing deadline to fill the party's line on the ballot, New Hampshire Democrats were scrambling. They needed a new candidate against Gregg. That's when Granny D., who was born in 1910 in the New Hampshire community of Laconia, stepped in. So far, she's gotten enthusiastic support from top Democrats like state party chair Kathy Sullivan, who says, "I think she has the capacity to bring people into the election who otherwise feel disenfranchised."

Granny D's candidacy could be a significant factor in presidential politics this fall. New Hampshire is a swing state, which George W. Bush won by only 7,200 votes in 2000. Granny D's appeal to reformers, women who see the outspoken activist as a role model and young people who distrust conventional politicians could well bring out voters who might otherwise have stayed home. And Democrats expect such voters would back John Kerry's challenge to Bush.

But Granny D. is not just running to bump up turnout.

"I intend to win," she says. "I want to go to the Senate and serve only one term. In that term, I will use all of my energy, and I have a lot of energy left, to get us back our democracy. I will work for public financing of federal campaigns. I will work to get the Senate back to serving the public interest, not the interests of the big campaign contributors. Maybe they will listen to a great grandmother when I tell them that we have to clean things up."

She'll continue her criticism of the war in Iraq. "I think it was an unnecessary war. Mr. Bush got a little excited about using his new weapons and thought, 'Oh, boy, let's have a war,'" she says. "He have done so much damage with his policy of 'revenge, revenge.' I want to talk about taking the steps that will again have America seen as a friend to the rest of the world, not a fiend, not an enemy, not a target."

Granny D. would, of course, bring a uniquely experienced voice to debates about Social Security and Medicare. But she says her special focus as a senator would be on issues of concern to Americans on the other end of the age spectrum. Quoting Jonathan Kozol's writings, she says, "I have trouble going to sleep at night thinking that one in five American children don't have enough to eat. A senator should be able to do something about that, and I would."

All of this talk of what she would do as a senator might seem a bit premature. After all, Gregg, a former governor and one of the best-known political figures in the state has raised millions for his re-election campaign, while Granny D. is starting from scratch. But the woman who is credited with helping to force Congress to get serious about the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Bill is undaunted. She expects she'll be able to raise enough "clean money" to run a real campaign. And she is excited about the prospect of debating Gregg, a 57-year-old conservative whose closeness to the Bush family may not be an advantage this year.

Will age be an issue?

"What?" asks Granny D., with a laugh. "Do you think anyone would actually say I was too old? That's crazy."

Ingraham, O'Reilly and Me

Word has reached me that right-wing radio host Laura Ingraham has been attacking me on the airwaves. I haven't heard the show, but I can imagine the cause of her distress. During the media's beatification of St. Ronald, she and I discussed Reagan's legacy on CNN, with Wolf Blitzer performing hosting duties. Reagan was only dead for a few days, so I did intend to be respectful.

Not surprisingly, Ingraham, who worked in the Reagan administration, praised him as a titan of conservative ideas. As an example, she cited "his idea of not following a policy of appeasement." Let's give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that in her grief she forgot that President Jimmy Carter was no appeaser. He began the military buildup that Reagan happily expanded, and Carter also initiated the covert program that supplied assistance to the mujahedin fighting Soviet forces in Afghanistan.

After Blitzer observed, "Even a critic like you, David, believes [Reagan] deserves all these honors that already have unfolded and will unfold," he asked, "what goes through your mind, historically speaking, about Ronald Reagan?" Trying to remain gentle, I replied, "I remember a fellow who wasn't well known just for being optimistic and for having a good manner about him, but for being a very divisive figure...in terms of arms control, the movement for freedom in South Africa. There were nasty fights over Central America and the Contra war...fierce battles very reminiscent of today. And he was a fellow who mobilized millions of Americans on a very, very wonky issue, nuclear arms control, to hit the streets and protest his policies. He had church movements across the country protesting his policies in Central America."

Rather than talk about such matters, Ingraham opted for soundbites: "I think Ronald Reagan, looking down from heaven, would say, David, there you go again right now." Nothing, though, was untrue or inaccurate about my comments. And I was minding my manners by not referring to the thousands of Central American peasants killed in the 1980s by armies actively supported and trained by the Reagan administration. (I referred to that later.) But what really ticked off Ingraham was my response to Blitzer's remark that Reagan was "a conservative Republican who really altered the political landscape in this country to this very day." Indeed he did, I said, adding, "In fact, the gap between the wealthy and the poor increased during his eight years, and has continued on that trend. He had draconian cuts in food stamps and school lunch programs. Remember, catsup as a vegetable and Medicaid [cuts]?"

"That's one of the most ridiculous things I've ever heard," Ingraham exclaimed. And during the commercial break she excoriated me for daring to utter the phrase "catsup as a vegetable." Imagine, she nearly shouted, if after Bill Clinton died, she would criticize him for having received a $500 haircut. Actually, that would hardly be an equivalent comment. Reagan's budget cuts--and "catsup as a vegetable" became a shorthand term for his assault on social programs--affected far more people than any haircut received by Clinton.

On the air, Ingraham commented, "Well, it's like the last 20 years never happened to David, I think. I mean, the facts of Reagan's success are undeniable. The largest peacetime economic expansion our country had ever seen from 1983 to 1990." Facts matter. And the expansion that occurred during the Reagan years was the third largest--behind the one that happened when Clinton was president and the expansion that transpired in the Kennedy and Johnson years. But as the number of jobs increased--after a rather deep recession--real income for Americans went down in the 1980s and the numbers of American families living in poverty rose by a third. It was not morning in America for everyone.

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After you read this article, check out David Corn's NEW WEBLOG on the Bushlies.com site. See how Bush has made up "evidence" of the supposed al Qaeda-Hussein connection!

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With Ingraham and other conservatives, it's as if much of what happened in the 1980s did not happen. The Berlin Wall did fall and the Soviet Union did collapse. As I noted, Reagan deserves at least partial credit for that, for it transpired on his watch. It remains an open historical question how much his policies moved these events along. But it is not open to debate that during his tenure in office, Reagan supported murderous brutes and tyrants from Iraq to South Africa to Argentina to Chile to El Salvador to Guatemala to the Philippines. Why is it that conservatives cannot address such matters?

In the wake of Reagan's death, many liberals and Democrats showed a remarkable open-mindedness. They noted that the overtures Reagan made in his second term to Mikhail Gorbachev--against the advice of hawkish conservatives and neocons who warned him not to deal with Gorby--apparently did contribute to the collapse of the Soviet empire. After all, liberals used to vilify Reagan as no more than a shoot-first dunce of a cowboy. Now, they were willing to reconsider that assumption and focus on Reagan's desire to do away with nuclear weapons and work with Gorbachev. Yet conservatives like Ingraham still cannot see past their narrow ideological blinders and even discuss the darker side of Reaganism.

So Ingraham has conniptions over catsup as a vegetable? I could have said that Reagan had the blood of Central Americans, Chileans, Argentineans, Iraqis, and South Africans on his hands. I was trying to be considerate of the dead.

On the subject of conservative talk-show hosts who go ballistic, I see that Bill O'Reilly has apologized to my pal Molly Ivins for having called her a socialist. That dustup appears to have led my Nation colleague Eric Alterman to hire a lawyer and demand that O'Reilly retract his claim that Alterman was "another Fidel Castro confidant." Alterman notes that last month he signed a public rebuke of Castro and the "brute repression" of his dictatorship.

Looks like a trend is developing. Should I catch the wave, too? (It probably would help sell more copies of my book.) When I appeared on O'Reilly's show in January 2003, he called me a "a left-wing, liberal, pinko communist." Any good red-baiter knows that there is no such thing as a liberal communist. So I'll give O'Reilly a pass on this one. But if he ever links me to President Hu Jintao of China, I'm calling my lawyer.

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DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! An UPDATED and EXPANDED EDITION is NOW AVAILABLE in PAPERBACK. The Washington Post says, "This is a fierce polemic, but it is based on an immense amount of research....[I]t does present a serious case for the president's partisans to answer....Readers can hardly avoid drawing...troubling conclusions from Corn's painstaking indictment." The Los Angeles Times says, "David Corn's The Lies of George W. Bush is as hard-hitting an attack as has been leveled against the current president. He compares what Bush said with the known facts of a given situation and ends up making a persuasive case." The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations....Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." And GEORGE W. BUSH SAYS, "I'd like to tell you I've read [ The Lies of George W. Bush], but that'd be a lie."

For more information and a sample, go to the official website: www.bushlies.com. And check out Corn's