Late last month, the US Air Force transported a dozen cruise missiles from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. The cargo, unbeknownst to the crew, included six nuclear warheads, with the power to destory 60 Hiroshimas. As they were moved across the country, the nukes went undetected for 36 hours. In an explosive front page story today, the Washington Post asks the question: "How Could It Have Happened?"
"It was the first known flight by a nuclear-armed bomber over US airspace, without special high-level authorization, in nearly 40 years," Post reporters Walter Pincus and Joby Warrick write. A high-ranking former Air Force official called it "one of the biggest mistakes in [Air Force] history."
The B-52 plane carrying the nukes sat on the tarmac in North Dakota for 15 hours with only minimal security protection. It was not authorized to transport such weapons. The episode, the Post writes, "may not have been a fluke but a symptom of deeper problems in the handling of nuclear weapons now that Cold War anxieties have abated." The military's post-Cold War nuclear safeguard system is described as "utterly debased."
The Bush Administration was repeatedly warned about the potential for security breaches at Air Force instillations housing nuclear weapons. A 2003 Air Force inspector general report, according to the article, "found that half of the 'nuclear security' inspections conducted that year resulted in failing grades." Among those flunking the test was the Minot base in North Dakota. The report attributed the problems to "the demands of supporting combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan."
To bomb or not to bomb Iran, that's the question the Bush Administration appears to be debating these days, once again revealing the extraordinary disconnect between the White House and the American people. With a catastrophic occupation of Iraq and polls showing the American public so skeptical about the use of military force that only eight percent support military action against Iran, there is nevertheless a clear and present danger that Cheney and the neocons will again prevail and lead this Administration into another disastrous military misadventure.
The parallels between now and the run-up to the Iraq War are troubling. Nobel Peace Prize-winner Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), who warned the Bush administration in 2003 about the lack of a nuclear program in Iraq and was subsequently attacked for his position by the Bush machine, the neocons and by many in the mainstream media, has now struck a deal with Iran to answer questions about its nuclear program within a defined timeline and improve access for inspectors. ElBaradei has called for a "double time-out" of all enrichment activities and new sanctions.
The result of ElBaradei's attempt to shed light on Iran's nuclear program? More attacks by the Bush administration. More outright hit jobs like this one from the Washington Post, or even the more subtle shading by the New York Times that ultimately portrays ElBaradei as a dictatorial loon. The result is, once again, an amplifying of the Administration's drumbeat calling for war.
What is really needed right now – as was the case in 2003 – is for ElBaradei and the IAEA to be given a fair hearing and support. As Joseph Cirincione, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and author of Bomb Scare, says, "ElBaradei is doing what any diplomatic leader should do: talking directly to a nation to find a way to resolve difficult issues short of the use of force… He's painfully aware of the lessons of the pre-Iraq War period. Then, he was convinced that there was no evidence of a nuclear program in Iraq. He told the UN Security Council that in his reports of January and March 2003. But could he have done more to prevent a disastrous and unnecessary war? Weren't others too quiet, too complacent to stay in their assigned roles? He does not want to see this happen again, with even more catastrophic consequences."
Had ElBaradei's work been heeded before, imagine the treasure, the lives – not to mention our international reputation an security – that would have been saved. But instead of learning from the current tragedy in Iraq, and taking responsibility, this administration continues to build on its legacy of arrogance and the media once again accepts the Administration line or fails to ask tough questions – making it more difficult for the IAEA to play the vital role that it could.
"Administration officials, including Secretary Rice, attacked the credibility of the director-general [in 2003] too," Cirincione says. "The Washington Post also blasted ElBaradei on his Iraq assessment. They were dead wrong. But this hasn't stopped them from attacking with guns blazing again. ElBaradei's record is far better on these issues than either the secretary of state's or the Washington Post's. You would think they would have some humility given the magnitude of their past mistakes. But some people have no shame."
In an excellent piece for Salon.com , Steven Clemons, Director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation, lays out the efforts by Cheney and the neocons to promote a strike against Iran by either Israel or the US – perhaps through "some kind of ‘accidental'… contrived confrontation." A former administration official suggested to Clemons that Bush has now received a memo on "a bleak binary choice" – either take military action against Iran or accept an Iran with nuclear weapons. According to the official, Rice was to develop a "third option," but the official predicted that option would be "a corpse." "I don't see how we come out of this without military action," the official said.
Cirincione takes issue with the binary, either/or option. "US hardliners are presenting a false, binary choice: either Iran buckles under the pressure of sanctions, or the US will be forced to attack," he says. "Since they don't believe Iran will shut down its enrichment plant, then we must attack. This logic is the result of another false choice: either we attack Iran or Iran will get a nuclear bomb. Missing from the equation is direct US-Iran negotiations. The sanctions are having an impact, but it's a mistake to believe that sanctions alone can compel a nation to comply or collapse. They never have. Sanctions can be a prod towards a negotiated compromise. What is missing now is the direct US-Iranian talks that could forge such a compromise. ElBaradei is opening up that option. His lead should be followed by the United States, not scorned…. At the very least, we should try talking to a nation before we attack it."
The fulminations of Ahmadinejad against Israel aren't to be ignored. As Richard Falk reported in The Nation last year, "Such hostility [as Ahmadinejad's] would agitate the security concerns of any state, especially one that has faced threats throughout its history, as has Israel." But, as Falk and others have pointed out, the reality regarding Iran as a nuclear threat needs to be looked at squarely. Representative Dennis Kucinich has been at the forefront of that effort, as was evident in a hearing he conducted in October 2006 which I wrote about here. Distinguished witnesses at that hearing – including Cirincione, former IAEA/UNSCOM Chief Nuclear Weapons Inspector, Dr. David Kay, and Colonel Sam Gardiner (Ret.) – agreed that Iran is at least 5 years, but more likely 10 or more years, away from producing weapons-grade nuclear materials.
And then there are the consequences of a strike against Iran. As Cirincione testified at the Kucinich hearing, "If you like the war in Iraq, wait until you see the war in Iran. It will be a massive, global war." Among the possible outcomes Falk listed in his Nation piece: "a devastating retaliation with conventional weapons, including its Shahab-3 missiles, which can reach targets in Israel with reasonable accuracy"; a deep, worldwide recession as Iran – the world's 4th largest oil producer – embargoes its oil; the strengthening of "Islamist tendencies throughout the region" and the hand of hardliners in Iran. And Clemons writes of the probable military response by Iran in Iraq, Afghanistan, or both; "the reaction of the other world major powers [that] would be at best reserved"; and the destabilizing impact and popular unrest that would occur in Muslim countries with significant Shia minorities. Finally, there is the question of how effective any attack would be given that the Iranians have dispersed nuclear sites that are underground.
So what should be done exactly? Not what the Bush Administration --along with its compliant European allies like France and Germany --is trying to do. On the eve of the UN General Assembly meetings in New York, the Washington Post reports that a new "coalition of the willing" will work to impose broader military and economic sanctions against Iran-- in what a Western diplomat dubbed a kind of "sanctions of the willing."
Instead, Cirincione argues, "We should learn from the North Korean and Libyan experience. Both were determined foes of the United States, both had weapons programs the US wanted to stop, both were subjected to sanctions and US pressure. But it was only when the United States began direct talks with these nations that we were able to develop a diplomatic path to end these programs. The Libya model is the polar opposite of the Iraq model: instead of invading a nation to change a regime, you negotiate with a nation to change the regime's behavior. North Korea is a more difficult case than Libya, but the same approach shows signs of working there as well. Iran is the most difficult case of all, but direct dialogue with the pragmatists could very well produce a compromise that satisfies the security concerns of both Iran and the United States."
Additionally, as the IAEA marks its 50th Anniversary this year, and ElBaradei once again attempts to instill a measure of sanity into a dangerous game of brinksmanship, we should focus on ways to support the IAEA mission and make it as effective as possible. John Holum, who served as Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, said recently, "We rely on the IAEA to safeguard nuclearmaterial in facilities all over the world. Yet the IAEA has never spent in excess of 120 million US dollars in any year to administer its worldwide nuclear materials inspection regime. At less than what the US spends per day in Iraq, the safety of the world is dramatically compromised."
Ultimately, the international community needs to work in conjunction with the IAEA to secure real nonproliferation of weapons – and as Falk pointed out in his Nation article, that means multilateral nuclear disarmament: "… It is disastrous folly to suppose that some will agree to live forever beneath the nuclear Sword of Damocles without trying to obtain such weapons themselves." In the meantime, while the Bush administration plays cowboy at the expense of global security – and influential newspapers like the Washington Post hurl hit jobs at el-Baradei, Congress should follow the wise advice of The Nation's defense correspondent, Michael Klare, who wrote in the magazine that legislation should be passed banning the use of federal funds for any attacks on Iran or Syria without prior authorization.
Most importantly, we need to confront the insanity of a military confrontation with Iran.
From Saturday's New York Times Crossword: 14-across, Weekly since 1865
Somewhere in between... 26-across, ___ Paradise of Kerouac's "On the Road" ..... 53-across, When Hamlet first sees a ghost
Check it out.
The latest horror stories about lead-laced toys imported from China may stir Congress to pass legislation providing overdue funding and enforcement authority to the beleagured Consumer Product Safety Commission. But testimony given at a House hearing Thursday raised the prospect that the World Trade Organization could overturn new laws designed to safeguard Americans from unsafe Barbies and other imports.
Lori Wallach, executive director of the D.C.-based advocacy group Public Citizen, testified to the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee that while U.S. law enforcement is part of the problem the "root cause is U.S. trade policies." Wallach noted that following the 2000 decision to grant China most favored nation trade status (which paved the way for China's entry into the WTO), more than 80 percent of all imported toys are now being made in China.
Wallach asserted that any serious efforts to regulate these toys and other Chinese products are likely to be challenged by China in the WTO court. So far the U.S. has lost 86 percent of all cases brought beforethe WTO; the majority of them were claims that America's consumer and environmental safeguards were too restrictive
Fellow witnesses amplified Wallach's testimony and argued that the United States, in addition to hiring more port inspectors, needs to find a way to ensure Chinese factories are manufacturing safe products.
"Chinese officials estimate that 50 percent of exported products do not even comply with Chinese laws," said Mary Teagarden, who is a professor at the Thunderbird School of Global Management, a top international business school, and has visited Chinese factories. "Their system relies on self-regulation and we found that this does not work."
For its part, toy industry has been sending out conflicting signals. At yesterday's hearing, toy company officials called for establishing better safety standards in China. Today, Mattel said that it was the company's own design flaws, not Chinese factories, that were responsible for unsafe toys. Whoever is to blame for hazardous toys, if Wallach and others are correct, the effort to make toys safe could end up sacrificed on the altar of free trade, with trade rules--that were backed by both the Clinton and Bush II administrations--trumping laws that protect kids.
Has anyone noticed that our commander-in-chief no longer plays dress up? He hasn't done so for a while and that's no small thing. It's a phenomenon that came and went almost without comment in the media.
I don't remember the first time I noticed that George W. Bush liked to dress up. It could have been in May 2003 when he strutted across that carrier deck all togged out to announce that "major combat operations had ended" in Iraq, or when he started appearing before massed, hoo-ahing troops in military-style jackets with "George W. Bush, Commander in Chief" hand-stitched across the chest, or when he served that inedible turkey in Baghdad. I can't tell you either when it first registered that he was visibly enjoying himself "in uniform"; or when it occurred to me that this was not just play-acting, but actual play of a very young and un-presidential sort; or when I first noticed that, "in uniform," he looked strangely like a life-sized version of the original 12-inch GI Joe doll. ("Action figure" was the term first invented for it, because who wanted a boy to think he had a Barbie, even if it came with its own "beach assault fatigue shirt" and "bivouac pup-tent set"?)
Here's something I suspect goes with the above. With rare exceptions, the fiercest post-9/11 "warriors" of this administration were never in the military. They had, in the Vice President's words, "other priorities in the ‘60s." Hence that old (and not very useful) term "chickenhawks." On the other hand, a surprising number of Democrats in Congress had actually served in the military -- not that, from Senators Max Cleland and John Kerry to Jack Reed, it's done them much political good. Americans have preferred, it seems, to hear their war stories from the men who sat out the wars.
The reason, I suspect, is simple enough. I'm about George Bush's age. My father, like his, fought in Asia in World War II. In the 1950s, my childhood years, that generation of fathers -- the ones I knew, anyway -- were remarkably silent on their actual war experiences, but to us kids that made no difference. All we had to do was walk to the nearest neighborhood movie theater, catch Merrill's Marauders, or some other war flick, and it was obvious enough just what heroic things they had accomplished. George Bush and I both sat in the dark, enveloped in the same American mythic tradition -- already then a couple of hundred years old -- that I've called "victory culture"; we knew Americans deserved to, and would, triumph against savage enemies out on some distant frontier; we both thrilled to the sound of the bugle as the blue coats charged; we both felt the chills run up our spine as, with the Marine Hymn welling up, the Marines advanced victoriously while "The End" flashed on the screen.
Here's the difference: I left that movie theater in the Vietnam era. Much of the Bush administration seems to have remained in the dark. There, it seems, they sat out defeat and emerged strangely untouched, as I've written elsewhere, as the Peter Pans of American war play. While, in the 1980s, G.I. Joe shrunk to 3¾-inch size to squeeze into the Star-Wars universe and began fighting fantasy villains, while others absorbed the Vietnam lesson, they arrived in the post-9/11 moment with a still untarnished dream of American triumphalism. And that, as Ira Chernus makes clear in a recent essay, "Glued to Our Seats in the Theater of War," is what Americans wanted--and many, against all odds, still want--to hear.
The President and his top officials were the ones who could still embody the idea of a "Good War," both enjoying the performance themselves and making it seem thrilling; and, for some years, a remarkable number of Americans suspended Vietnam-style disbelief and went with the flow. Under the circumstances, a surprising number still do. It just turned out--and who in the "reality-based" world can truly be surprised--that they couldn't translate their all-American fantasy world, or the President's dress-up dreams, into reality. Fighting actual wars proved a painfully different matter.
Blackwater USA's mercenary mission in Iraq is very much in the news this week, and rightly so. The private military contractor's war-for-profit program, which has been so brilliantly exposed by Jeremy Scahill, may finally get a measure of the official scrutiny it merits as the corporation scrambles to undo the revocation by the Iraqi government of its license to operate in that country. There will be official inquiries in Baghdad, and in Washington. The U.S. Congress might actually provide some of the oversight that is its responsibility. Perhaps, and this is a big "perhaps," Blackwater's "troops" could come home before the U.S. soldiers who have been forced to fight, and die, in defense of these international rent-a-cops.
But it is not the specific story of Blackwater that matters so much as the broader story of imperial excess that it illustrates.
If Blackwater, with an assist from the U.S. government, beats back the attempt by the Iraqis to regulate the firm's activities -- as now appears likely, considering Friday's report that the firm has resumed guarding U.S. State Department convoys in Baghdad -- we will have all the confirmation that is needed of the great truth of the U.S. occupation of Iraq: This is a colonial endeavor no different than that of the British Empire against America's founding generation revolted.
But even if Blackwater loses its fight to stay, even if the corporation is forced to shut down its multi-billion dollar, U.S. Treasury-funded operation in Iraq, the brief "accountability moment" may not be sufficient to open up the necessary debate about Iraq's colonial status. The danger, for Iraq and the United States, that honest assessment of the crisis will lose out to face-saving gestures designed to foster the fantasy of Iraqi independence.
It is not enough that Blackwater is shamed and perhaps sanctioned. A Blackwater exit from Iraq will mean little if its mercenary contracts are merely taken over by one or more of the 140 other U.S.-sanctioned private security firms operating in that country -- such as Vice President Dick Cheney's Halliburton.
Whatever the precise play out of this Blackwater moment may be, the likelihood is that the colonial enterprise will continue. That's because, in the absence of intense pressure from grassroots activists and the media, Congress is unlikely to go beyond a scratch at the surface of what is actually going on in Iraq.
The deeper discussion requires that a discussion about the substance that no less a figure than former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan describes as the reason for the invasion and occupation of this particular Middle Eastern land: oil
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. aptly observed that "colonialism was made for domination and for exploitation," and there is no substance that the Bush-Cheney administration is more interested in dominating and exploiting than oil.
Thus, while it is right to pay close attention to the emerging discussion about Blackwater's wicked work in Iraq, Americans would do well to pay an equal measure of attention to the still largely submerged discussion about an Iraqi oil deal that will pay huge benefits to the Hunt Oil Company, a Texas firm closely linked to the administration. How closely? When he was running Halliburton, Cheney invited Hunt Oil Company CEO Ray Hunt to serve on the firm's board of directors. Hunt, a "Bush Pioneer" fund raiser during the 2000 campaign recently donated the tidy sum of $35 million to George W.'s presidential library building fund.
The new "production sharing agreement" between Hunt Oil and the Kurdistan Regional Government puts one of the administration's favorite firms in a position to reap immeasurable profits while undermining essential efforts to assure that Iraq's oil revenues will be shared by all Iraqis. Hunt's deal upsets hopes that Iraq's mineral wealth might ultimately be a source of stability, replacing the promise of economic equity with the prospect of a black-gold rush that will only widen inequalities and heighten ethnic and regional resentments.
The Hunt deal is so sleazy -- and so at odds with the stated goals of the Iraqi government and the U.S. regarding shared oil revenues -- that even Bush acknowledges that U.S. embassy officials in Baghdad are deeply concerned. What Bush and Cheney won't mention is the fact that Iraq's oil minister, Hussain al-Shahristani, says the deal is illegal.
Unfortunately, as with the Blackwater imbroglio, however, there is no assurance that the stance of the Iraqi government is definitional with regard to what happens in Iraq. All indications are that what happens in Washington matters most. And that is why it is so very disturbing that, for the most part, members of Congress -- even members who say they do not want the United States to have a long-term presence in Iraq -- have been slow to start talking about Hunt's oil rigging.
That is why it is disturbing that, for the most part, members of Congress -- even members who say they do not want the United States to have a long-term presence in Iraq -- have been slow to start talking about Hunt's oil rigging.
One House member who has raised the alarm is Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich, who in his capacity as a key member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, has asked the committee's chairman, California Democrat Henry Waxman, to launch an investigation into the Hunt Oil deal.
"As I have said for five years, this war is about oil," argues Kucinich, who is mounting an anti-war bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, declared on the floor of the House this week. "The Bush Administration desires private control of Iraqi oil, but we have no right to force Iraq to give up control of their oil. We have no right to set preconditions to Iraq which lead Iraq to giving up control of their oil. The Constitution of Iraq designates that the oil of Iraq is the property for all Iraqi people."
With that in mind, Kucinich explains, "I am calling for a Congressional investigation to determine the role the Administration may have played in the Hunt-Kurdistan deal, the effect the deal will have on the oil revenue sharing plan and the attempt by the Administration to privatize Iraqi oil."
Waxman has been ahead of the curve on Blackwater, seeking testimony from the firm's chairman at hearings scheduled for early October.
But Waxman needs to expand his focus, and the way to do that is by heeding Kucinich's call for an investigation into the Hunt deal.
That inquiry should begin with two fundamental questions:
Who runs Iraq -- the Iraqis or their colonial overlords in Washington?
And, if the claim is that the Iraqis are in charge, then why is Ray Hunt about to start steering revenues from that country's immense oil wealth into the same Texas bank accounts that have so generously funded the campaigns of George Bush and Dick Cheney?
It was riveting television. There was former CBS news anchor Dan Rather, sitting across from CNN's Larry King, railing against the threat powerful media corporations pose to freedom and journalistic integrity. "You can't have freedom if you're going to have large corporations and government intruding on investigative reporting," Dan told a none-too-happy King. Dan's championing of independent media got me thinking about The Nation's first centerfold. Published twelve years ago on glossy paper, this wasn't your typical centerfold. It was a pull out four- page silky spread depicting the media multinational giants which determined so much of what we saw and heard. There were GE, Disney/Cap Cities, Westinghouse (later Viacom/ CBS) and Time-Warner as octopi.... At that time, the threat media consolidation, hyper-conglomeratization posed to our democracy was not an issue on the national radar for debate, let alone televised conversation. But in these last years, as the line between news and entertainment has been forever obliterated--a media and democracy movement has emerged to challenge corporate control of our publicly-owned airwaves. In 2003, three million citizens, in a transpartisan alliance, petitioned the FCC to halt the repeal of cross-ownership rules restricting how many tv or radio stations, newspapers one company could own in one town. Today, media consolidation is the subject of conferences, tv shows, Charlie Rose chatfests, books, legislation and FCC Commissioner Michael Copps has emerged as one of the country's most eloquent champions of more localism and diversity of media ownership and content. And it now appears that Dan Rather will join the hearty and growing band of media reformers as another strong voice on this issue. Certainly, Rather, judging from tonight's CNN interview, views his lawsuit against Viacom, CBS and three of its corporate employees as an attempt to expose--using subpoena power-- how big media conglomerates are more interested in pacifying the powers-that-be than supporting public interest investigative journalism. The trial, if it goes to trial, will put corporate executives like Sumner Redstone under oath--allowing questions about what role the Bush White House may have played in Rather's fate at CBS. Just last April, Rather---perhaps prefiguring the lawsuit he would file-- spoke of the political pressures people working in corporate newsrooms face. In Bill Moyers' superb PBS documentary reporting on how the media--with a few exceptions-- failed to do its job in the runup to war, Rather spoke of how: " Fear is in every newsroom in the country. And fear of what? Well, a combination of : If you don't go along to get along, you're going to get the reputation of being a troublemaker. There's also the fear, particularly in networks. They've become huge, international conglomerates. They have big needs. Legislative needs, in Washington. Nobody has ot send a memo to tell you that that's the case...and that puts a seed in your mind. Well, if you stick your neck out, if you take the risk of going against the grain with your reporting is anybody going to back you up? " Dan Rather was never a newsman who went along " to get along." But now, as songwriter Kris Kristofferson might have put it, Rather seems like a man who understands that freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose. And he's decided he's going to use his freedom to fight for the future of free and independent media.
Memo to Democrats: you control the Congress. That means you can decide what bills come to the floor for votes--and what don't. So why, in a week where Republicans blocked the restoration of habeas corpus, voting rights for DC and adequate rest time for our troops between deployments, did you allow Republicans the opportunity to score a cheap PR stunt by approving a resolution condemning a week-old newspaper ad by Moveon.org--on the same day Republicans once again voted to keep indefinitely continuing the Iraq war?!
It boggles the mind. I have no idea what Harry Reid was thinking. Does he think that by repudiating Moveon.org suddenly Fox News will like him? That Ann Coulter will take back all those nasty things she said? That Republicans will stop trying to blame the Democrats for losing this war?
MoveOn has been one of the most effective and persistent voices pushing for progressive change inside the Democratic Party. They helped elect politicians like Jon Tester in Montana and Jim Webb in Virginia, who today stabbed the group in the back. MoveOn didn't start this war. George Bush did. And General Petraeus is keeping it going. They've only been in the majority for nine months, but you'd think by now Democratic leaders in Congress would be able to comprehend the obvious.
President Bush has made it clear that he does not read newspapers. And there is little reason to believe that the chief executive spends much time viewing serious news programs before his twilight bedtime.
So it is a bit surprising that he has kept up with the controversy surrounding the MoveOn.org advertisement in the New York Times that urged General David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, to put aside administration talking points and speak blunt and necessary truths when he briefed Congress last week.
It is even more surprising that the commander-in-chief would in an official setting take the extraordinary step of attacking the advertisement and the group that placed it.
But so Bush did on Thursday in what will rank as one of the more remarkable -- and politically petty -- moments of a remarkable and politically-petty presidency.
In the New York Times advertisement, MoveOn proposed the anything-but-radical notion that a failure of frankness on the general's part would be a betrayal of the troops and the country. That's hardly an unreasonable suggestion, coming as it does at a critical stage in the occupation when young men and women from the United States are dying at a rate of one every ten hours and when $200 million is removed from the federal treasury each day to maintain what is so obviously a failed mission.
But the president was upset, and he showed it. Tossed a typical soft-ball question at a presidential press conference Thursday morning, Bush responded by saying, "I thought that the ad was disgusting. I felt like the ad was an attack, not only on General Petraeus, but on the U.S. military. And I was disappointed that not more leaders in the Democrat Party spoke out strongly against that kind of ad. That leads me to come to this conclusion: that most Democrats are afraid of irritating a left-wing group like MoveOn.org -- are more afraid of irritating them than they are of irritating the United States military. That was a sorry deal. And it's one thing to attack me. It's another thing to attack somebody like General Petraeus."
Bush's obviously prepared statement was a clumsy attempt to attack Democratic presidential candidates and congressional leaders. But it created an opening for an unprecedented back-and-forth between the most powerful man in the world and his most aggressive critics. It was hardly necessary on the day when Senate Republicans were engineering a symbolic 72-25 vote rebuking the MoveOn ad that referred to Petraeus as "Betray Us." Had Bush simply offered the standard "I'm not going to get into these political fights" line, or even a pithier "I think the Senate will have something appropriate to say about that," he would have mastered the moment.
Instead, the president handed the loudest microphone in the land to MoveOn. And MoveOn.org Political Action Committee executive director Eli Pariser grabbed it with gusto.
"What's disgusting is that the President has more interest in political attacks than developing an exit strategy to get our troops out of Iraq and end this awful war," said Pariser, who argued that, "The President has no credibility on Iraq: he lied repeatedly to the American people to get us into the war. Most Americans oppose the war and want us to get out. Right now, there are about 168,000 American soldiers in Iraq, caught in the crossfire of that country's unwinnable civil war, and the President has betrayed their trust and the trust of the American people."
MoveOn's leaders would be the first to acknowledge that they are not perfect strategists. Like any high-profile activist group, MoveOn makes mistakes that even supporters second guess. Reasonable people can and will question whether the "Betray Us" ad delivered the right message at the right time.
But there is no way that provoking a president to attack your organization's message -- and in so doing to emphasize that leading figures on the national political stage remain resolutely allied with you -- can be counted as anything but a masterstroke.
While the fiercest partisans -- and Fox personalities -- may choose to try and portray the president's outburst as a bold gesture, a show of resolve, a rallying cry or whatever other spin comes to mind, sincere supporter of the president or his war cannot be comfortable with what has transpired. And honest observers, no matter what their political bent, will acknowledge that MoveOn just won a major round.
Anytime a grassroots political group is mentioned by the president of the United States, it gains attention and status as a prime player in the national debate. Add to this simple reality of the political process the fact that Bush is one of the most unpopular presidents in history, and that his declining circumstance is so closely linked with the war, and it is nothing short of amazing that he has chosen to emphasize his morass by getting into a shoving match with MoveOn.
The president's reckless decision to engage in this sort of political infighting at the same time that he and his aides are busy complaining about an increasingly bitter and partisan debate about the occupation makes this a particularly bad day for a president who only yesterday was battered by polling data that confirmed the Petraeus ploy had done nothing to alter anti-war sentiment among the American people.
Presumably, an urgent call will be going out to a certain retired White House political czar. After all, even an electoral street fighter like Karl Rove knows that you don't let a president climb down from his bully pulpit and start wrestling with his loudest critics -- especially a president whose credibility has been stretched beyond he breaking point.
John Nichols' latest book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"
This past January a ten year old Palestinian girl, Abir Aramin, was hit by a rubber bullet fired by Israeli Border Police as she was making her way home from school in East Jerusalem.
According to an account by Donald Macintyre writing in the Independent of London, Abir was with her sister and two friends after buying chocolate at a grocery shop having just finished a math exam. One of the friends, 12-year-old Abrar Abu Qweida, said an Israeli Jeep passed them in the opposite direction and she noticed a gun protruding from the rear.
Moments later, she said, she heard a loud bang and like Abir's sister Arin, 11, hunched her shoulders in an instinctive reaction. She said that Abir fell forward. A boy who helped to take Abir into her nearby school handed the Israeli legal rights agency Yesh Din a rubber bullet he said he found under her body.
The official investigation into the girl's death was closed quickly by Israeli authorities without any prosecution or explanation of how it happened.
Abir's father, Bassam Aramin, is a former Fatah militant who -- long before his daughter's death -- renounced violence to devote his time to fostering peaceful dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis. Despite his grief he has used the killing of his daughter to further his reconciliation efforts with the help of a group of Israeli ex-soldier friends in the unique organization, Combatants for Peace.
The group, composed largely of former combat soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces and Palestinians involved in armed resistance, is working to build a playground in her name at Abir's former school as it seeks justice in the form of a legitimate criminal investigation into the causes of her death.
Watch this video for background on Combatants for Peace.
The fundraising for the playground has only started recently. Former fighters will work side by side to build the site, showing the world the possibilities of peaceful, productive collaboration between Palestinians and Israelis. The project plan was designed voluntarily by landscape architect Judy Green and can be viewed here. When completed, the school grounds will include two play areas, a ball field, fruit and olive trees, a memorial fountain, and numerous places for children to sit, play, and talk.
The entire project can be funded for only $25,000 and more than $7,000 has been raised already. Click here to donate and find out more about the uniquely inspirational stories behind the Combatants for Peace.