The Nation

Killing Silent Spring

Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring and a seminal figure for the modern environmental movement, would have turned one hundred this past Sunday. "Carson's book altered the nature of environmentalism," is how the Washington Post described her legacy. "Previously, it had been mainly about preserving and appreciating parks and other beautiful places. But Carson's message was that all of nature should be protected, for its own sake and because people eventually would suffer if it was degraded."

"What she said was, the Earth itself needs an advocate," said Patricia M. DeMarco, Executive Director of the Rachel Carson Homestead Association.

But when Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland – where Carson was a longtime resident – tried to honor her with a Senate resolution it was blocked by Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. "Rachel Carson has been an inspiration to a generation of environmentalists, scientists and biologists who made a difference and changed the irresponsible use of pesticides," Cardin said. "Honoring her 100th birthday should not be controversial. I wanted to share that with our country."

Indeed, Elizabeth Kolbert describes the magnitude of Carson's impact in The New Yorker, "As much as any book can, ‘Silent Spring' changed the world by describing it. An immediate best-seller, the book launched the modern environmental movement, which, in turn, led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, the passage of the Clean Air, the Clean Water, and the Endangered Species Acts, and the banning of a long list of pesticides, including dieldrin."

But in a released statement Coburn insisted, "[Silent Spring] was the catalyst in the deadly worldwide stigmatization against insecticides, especially DDT" which is used to fight malaria. Spokesman John Hart claims that the treatment of malaria was hindered by Carson's work: "…millions of people in the developing world died because the environmental movement, inspired by Rachel Carson, created a climate of fear and hysteria about DDT."

But those who have studied Carson's work know that it is Coburn who is reacting with unfounded hysteria. In a 1964 tribute/obituary in The New Yorker, E.B. White wrote that Carson "was not a fanatic or a cultist. She was not against chemicals per se. She was against the indiscriminate use of strong, enduring poisons capable of subtle, long-term damage to plants, animals, and man...."

Linda Lear, a professor at George Washington University and a biographer of Carson, said Carson never called for a complete ban on DDT. "Carson was never against the use of DDT," Lear said. "She was against the misuse of DDT."

And Neal Fitzpatrick, Executive Director of the Audubon Naturalist Society in Maryland where Carson was a longtime board member, concurs with Lear. "Carson was not opposed to pesticide use – she was opposed to pesticide abuse," Fitzpatrick says. "And Coburn obviously never read Silent Spring. It's filled with examples of broad spraying of chemical poisons and the destructive impact on natural resources. Carson's focus on the wonder of nature is a value not shared by Coburn."

In these times, when the Bush administration muzzles scientists and caters its policies to the desires of corporate lobbyists, Rachel Carson's commitment to truth-telling and hard work in order to care for our planet needs to be fully appreciated – and revisited.

Dems Wimp Out on Bush & Prewar Intelligence

As part of its much belated inquiry into the prewar intelligence, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a 229-page report on Friday on the intelligence produced by US intelligence agencies on what could be expected to occur in Iraq following a US invasion. No surprise: the intelligence community foresaw the likelihood of chaos and trouble inside and outside Iraq.

As the committee's report notes, before the war the top intelligence analysts of the United States government concluded that creating a stable democratic government in Iraq would be a difficult and "turbulent" challenge, that sectarian conflict could erupt in a post-invasion Iraq, that al Qaeda would view a US invasion of Iraq as an opportunity to increase and enhance its terrorist attacks, that a heightened terrorist threat would exist for several years, that the US occupation of Iraq would probably cause a rise of Islamic fundamentalism and a boost in funding for terrorist groups, and that Iran's role in the region would enlarge.

That is, prior to the war, the experts predicted the tough times to come. In the book I co-wrote with Michael Isikoff Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, we reported that the intelligence community and the Pentagon had produced several estimates in early 2003 that warned about what could happen following a U.S. invasion. In his memoirs, former CIA director George Tenet quoted from some of these intelligence assessments. And the Senate Intelligence Committee report reprints two such studies. The intelligence establishment blew the WMD call--partly because it failed to accept its own skeptical intelligence evaluations--but it was largely correct about what would transpire after the United States entered Iraq.

But the Senate Intelligence Committee--now chaired by Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller--blinked.

That assessment comes from one of the committee's own members: Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat. In comments attached to the report, she justifiably gripes that the report ignores a critical matter--what the Bush administration did (or did not do) with all this strong intelligence. She writes:

I believe that the report could have, and should have, been much stronger and more direct on the quality and use of prewar intelligence.

In particular, the report should have included a conclusion that the quality of prewar assessments was generally high and that many of the predictions made by the Intelligence Community (IC) about postwar Iraq proved to be correct. There should also have been a conclusion that although policymakers had access to these assessments...they failed to take steps to prevent or lessen postwar challenges.

Feinstein is essentially charging that Rockefeller wimped out. He let the Bush White House off the hook. As Feinstein writes,

A more troubling aspect of prewar assessments on postwar Iraq was the extent to which they were ignored by policymakers....In the rare occasion that Administration officials addressed the postwar environment, their statements tended to ignore or directly contradict the IC's views.

Moreover, major policy decisions, including the number of troops needed after the initial combat phase and the extent of de-Baathification in the government and security forces, flatly ignored the assessments and recommendations of intelligence officials. Similarly, intelligence recommendations to actively engage Iraq's neighbors, especially Iran, in the postwar period were dismissed.

There is a bottom-line here: Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and other top administration officials shirked their duties by not planning for the troubles predicted by the intelligence community. Moreover, they misled the public, by presenting images of a post-invasion Iraq not supported by the assessments produced by the government's analysts. Feinstein notes:

The Committee has seen no evidence that government officials and decisionmakers appropriately considered and prepared for the difficulties in the postwar environment that were predicted by the Intelligence Community. The failure to act on this intelligence is a key contributing factor to the current situation in Iraq.

The Senate intelligence committee dropped the ball on the most important point: how Bush and his colleagues paid little heed to reality (or predictions of a reality to come) when they took the nation to war. It's good to know that the intelligence community--which screwed up the WMD question--did get something right. (The CIA also was correct when it produced reports saying there was no evidence of an operational link between Iraq and al Qaeda--a conclusion mocked by neocons in the Bush administration.) Yet the more significant issue is how Bush and his aides handled the decision to go to war. As the report shows--without stating so--the president and his team disregarded the experts and, thus, steered the country into one helluva ditch in Iraq.

The Senate intelligence committee has yet to finish its so-called "Phase II" report on the administration's use (or abuse) of the prewar intelligence on Iraq and weapons of mass destruction. That inquiry has been the subject of contention between Republicans and Democrats on the committee for the past three years. (The Democrats even shut down the Senate for a few hours to protest the Republicans' reluctance to wrap up that investigation.) But if the latest committee report is any indication, Bush critics, even fellow Democrats of Jay Rockefeller, may end up disappointed when the long-awaited Phase II report finally emerges.


JUST OUT IN PAPERBACK: HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR by Michael Isikoff and David Corn. The paperback edition of this New York Times bestseller contains a new afterword on George W. Bush's so-called surge in Iraq and the Scooter Libby trial. The Washington Post said of Hubris: "Indispensable....This [book] pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft." The New York Times called it, "The most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations...fascinating reading." Tom Brokaw praised it as "a bold and provocative book." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For highlights from Hubris, click here.

Colombia's Plan Clinton

The right-wing government of Colombia, which stands accused of collaborating with militias that kill union workers, is feting Bill Clinton at a "Colombia is Passion" awards ceremony in New York City next month.

They're shelling out $40,000 a month to the Glover Park Group, a PR and lobbying firm packed with Clintonites, to push for a US-Colombia free trade agreement that has been widely criticized by Democratic members of Congress. And President Alvaro Uribe has also brought on board the PR firm Burson-Marsteller, run by Hillary's chief strategist, Mark Penn, to "educate members of the US Congress" about the trade deal and the annual $5 billion in anti-drug aid bestowed on the Colombian government by the US under Clinton's Plan Colombia, according to Justice Department filings obtained by the AP (and wisely first flagged by David Sirota.)

I guess that's what one calls synergy. And for those that read my recent article Hillary Inc. it shouldn't be the least bit surprising.

Cindy Sheehan Calls It Quits

The decision of Congressional Democrats to hand George Bush a blank check to maintain a war they were elected to end has frustrated a lot of Americans -- even the until-now indefatigable Cindy Sheehan.

Sheehan, the mother of slain soldier Casey Sheehan whose 2005 decision to camp out in Crawford, Texas, until George Bush heard her complaints about the war made her a hero to activists around the world, is tired of the compromises that keep the war going. So tired that she is retiring as the "face" of the peace movement.

Here is what Sheehan, one of the most selfless campaigners this reporter has had the privilege of covering, wrote in her online diary upon the dawning of another Memorial Day with no end in sight to a war that should never have started:

I have come to some heartbreaking conclusions this Memorial Day Morning. These are not spur of the moment reflections, but things I have been meditating on for about a year now. The conclusions that I have slowly and very reluctantly come to are very heartbreaking to me.

The first conclusion is that I was the darling of the so-called left as long as I limited my protests to George Bush and the Republican Party. Of course, I was slandered and libeled by the right as a "tool" of the Democratic Party. This label was to marginalize me and my message. How could a woman have an original thought, or be working outside of our "two-party" system?

However, when I started to hold the Democratic Party to the same standards that I held the Republican Party, support for my cause started to erode and the "left" started labeling me with the same slurs that the right used. I guess no one paid attention to me when I said that the issue of peace and people dying for no reason is not a matter of "right or left", but "right and wrong."

I am deemed a radical because I believe that partisan politics should be left to the wayside when hundreds of thousands of people are dying for a war based on lies that is supported by Democrats and Republican alike. It amazes me that people who are sharp on the issues and can zero in like a laser beam on lies, misrepresentations, and political expediency when it comes to one party refuse to recognize it in their own party. Blind party loyalty is dangerous whatever side it occurs on. People of the world look on us Americans as jokes because we allow our political leaders so much murderous latitude and if we don't find alternatives to this corrupt "two" party system our Representative Republic will die and be replaced with what we are rapidly descending into with nary a check or balance: a fascist corporate wasteland. I am demonized because I don't see party affiliation or nationality when I look at a person, I see that person's heart. If someone looks, dresses, acts, talks and votes like a Republican, then why do they deserve support just because he/she calls him/herself a Democrat?

I have also reached the conclusion that if I am doing what I am doing because I am an "attention whore" then I really need to be committed. I have invested everything I have into trying to bring peace with justice to a country that wants neither. If an individual wants both, then normally he/she is not willing to do more than walk in a protest march or sit behind his/her computer criticizing others. I have spent every available cent I got from the money a "grateful" country gave me when they killed my son and every penny that I have received in speaking or book fees since then. I have sacrificed a 29 year marriage and have traveled for extended periods of time away from Casey's brother and sisters and my health has suffered and my hospital bills from last summer (when I almost died) are in collection because I have used all my energy trying to stop this country from slaughtering innocent human beings. I have been called every despicable name that small minds can think of and have had my life threatened many times.

The most devastating conclusion that I reached this morning, however, was that Casey did indeed die for nothing. His precious lifeblood drained out in a country far away from his family who loves him, killed by his own country which is beholden to and run by a war machine that even controls what we think. I have tried every since he died to make his sacrifice meaningful. Casey died for a country which cares more about who will be the next American Idol than how many people will be killed in the next few months while Democrats and Republicans play politics with human lives. It is so painful to me to know that I bought into this system for so many years and Casey paid the price for that allegiance. I failed my boy and that hurts the most.

I have also tried to work within a peace movement that often puts personal egos above peace and human life. This group won't work with that group; he won't attend an event if she is going to be there; and why does Cindy Sheehan get all the attention anyway? It is hard to work for peace when the very movement that is named after it has so many divisions.

Our brave young men and women in Iraq have been abandoned there indefinitely by their cowardly leaders who move them around like pawns on a chessboard of destruction and the people of Iraq have been doomed to death and fates worse than death by people worried more about elections than people. However, in five, ten, or fifteen years, our troops will come limping home in another abject defeat and ten or twenty years from then, our children's children will be seeing their loved ones die for no reason, because their grandparents also bought into this corrupt system. George Bush will never be impeached because if the Democrats dig too deeply, they may unearth a few skeletons in their own graves and the system will perpetuate itself in perpetuity.

I am going to take whatever I have left and go home. I am going to go home and be a mother to my surviving children and try to regain some of what I have lost. I will try to maintain and nurture some very positive relationships that I have found in the journey that I was forced into when Casey died and try to repair some of the ones that have fallen apart since I began this single-minded crusade to try and change a paradigm that is now, I am afraid, carved in immovable, unbendable and rigidly mendacious marble.

Camp Casey has served its purpose. It's for sale. Anyone want to buy five beautiful acres in Crawford , Texas ? I will consider any reasonable offer. I hear George Bush will be moving out soon, too...which makes the property even more valuable.

This is my resignation letter as the "face" of the American anti-war movement. This is not my "Checkers" moment, because I will never give up trying to help people in the world who are harmed by the empire of the good old US of A, but I am finished working in, or outside of this system. This system forcefully resists being helped and eats up the people who try to help it. I am getting out before it totally consumes me or anymore people that I love and the rest of my resources.

Good-bye America ...you are not the country that I love and I finally realized no matter how much I sacrifice, I can't make you be that country unless you want it.

It's up to you now.


John Nichols' new 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.'"

Unshackling Our Imaginations

Imagination--the ability to dream-- is central to all successful political projects. But perhaps one of the worst legacies of these last years has been how TINA ("there is no alternative" ) and YOYO ("You're on your own jack") have shackled our imaginations.

In his spirited manifesto, Dream: Re-Imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy, (New Press, 2007} Stephen Duncombe makes an impassioned and spirited case for a politics "that connects with people's dreams and desires, that resonates with the symbols and myths they find meaningful." He wants, quite simply, to open up a new arena for radical politics--one infused with joyfulness and pleasure.

That doesn't mean he's calling on progressives to jettison reason, reality, empiricism and the Enlightment! Nor is he saying it's all spectacle and image. But he is calling on the left to listen a little more, to understand peoples' popular dreams, to speak to the heart as much as to the head and to be more playful. (One example he cites--the creative, playful, media savvy group, Billionaires for Bush.)

Duncombe's ruminations may be playful and provocative, but they're also strategic. He's interested in creating a winning progressive politics. And in his view, that means connecting with people "where they're at", listening to them, not lecturing or hectoring them (thereby leading them think politics is a bore). " Whether one approves of it or not," he argues, " fantasy and spectacle have become the lingua franca of our time."

Duncombe, who teaches the history and politics of media and culture at NYU, believes that "without dreams we will never be able to imagine the new world we want to build." The left's counterhistory, after all, is one that "has long embraced the dreamscape of the imaginary, using symbolism and narrative in an attempt to create new realities."

After a long hiatus, I feel those shackles on our imagination loosening....and loosening....what will come now depends on the renewal of progressive left politics of a new kind. Duncombe's Dream reminds us of the passion and creativity of a left political tradition worth reclaiming.

Bushites Edge into Talks with Tehran

The US and Iranian ambassadors in Baghdad met for four hours Monday, hosted by Iraqi PM Nuri al-Maliki in his office in the Baghdad Green Zone.

This was the highest-level bilateral (trilateral) meeting between officials of Iran and the US since Washington broke diplomatic ties with Teheran in 1980, and is another sign that the Bush administration may be cautiously trying to de-escalate the tensions with Iran.

The length of today's meeting was a welcome indicator that some serious-- if still necessarily preliminary-- diplomatic business got done.

In the report linked to above, Reuters' Ross Colvin wrote that both sides afterwards described the meeting as "positive." He noted that the Iranian ambassador, Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, came out and said Tehran wanted further follow-up meetings. K-Q's American counterpart, Ryan Crocker, was reported to be less sure about that. (Most likely he needed to check back with Washington.) The way Crocker described the meeting, he had taken the opportunity to lay out the whole series of accusations that Washington has against Iran for its "meddling" in the internal affairs of Iraq.

(Does he have any sense of irony?)

Colvin wrote that Kazemi-Qomi had criticized the effectiveness of the US program to train the Iraqi security forces, and said that Iran had offered to help in this task.

These talks came as two (nuclear-armed) US Navy carrier battle groups U.S. warships hold war games near Iran's coast, and two days after Tehran said it had uncovered spy networks on its territory run by Washington and its allies."

The talks also, of course (though Colvin didn't mention this) came as the region-spanning tensions over both Iran's nuclear-engineering program and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been running high. It is now very hard indeed to see how the US-Iraq-Iran imbroglio can be sustainably defused unless those other components of what I have called the "perfect storm" of three concurrent and linked crises in the Middle East can also be put on the path to sustainable resolution...

But still, to have these two significant governments at last apparently talking seriously about shared concerns in Iraq, rather than engaging in an open shooting war there or anywhere else, is a huge blessing for all of humankind, and especially for the long-suffering residents of Iraq and the rest of the Middle East.

Let's just first of all, all say a big thanks for that.

Among the more intriguing aspects of today's developments is the role the Iraqi government has been playing in the emerging US-Iranian negotiations.

Obviously, when Pres. Bush made the decision to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein's regime, one of his key goals was to install a reliably pro-US government there. Maliki emerged as PM as a result of an electoral process that was completely dominated by the US. But the demographic and political realities of Iraq meant that any use of anything approaching a "fair" electoral process there always meant that the product of such a process would be a leadership much more responsive to the urgings of "brotherly" and neighboring Iran than to those from distant, and very "foreign", Washington.

How on earth could the Bushites ever have expected anything different? (Because they always systematically blocked out any input into their decisionmaking from objective scholars and analysts who actually knew something about Iraq, is how. But we don't need to revisit that here.)

So now, we start to see some of the diplomatic results of that.

It is notable that today's talks-- and presumably, the continuing diplomatic process that we can now expect will flow from them-- are being described as "hosted by" Maliki. Okay, he is still to a large degree the "captive" of the US forces, there in the Green Zone. But these days, the Americans may well need him-- to provide a veneer of political legitimacy to their presence in Iraq-- just as much as, if not more than, he needs them (to, among other things, protect him from the wrath of an Iraqi citizenry that is very fed-up with the fact he has been able able to deliver almost nothing of any value to them...)

It is notable too that, at a time when the political elite in the US is abuzz with discussions of Maliki's many claimed "shortcomings" as Iraq's PM, the Iranian negotiator was saying that the Iranian government wants to give the Maliki government more support, including through the provision of military and security-force training-- in a move that seems couched as a thinly veiled criticism of what the US has been doing in this field up until now.

    (A longer version of this post can be found here, on my 'Just World News' blog.)



Fighting for Democracy on Memorial Day

Memorial Day is, as former North Carolina Senator John Edwards reminds us, "a serious holiday." And this year, in particular, it falls at what Edwards rightly refers to as "a serious time."

It is unfortunate but true that on this Memorial Day -- when we pause to honor those Americans who have fought the good fights against British colonialism, the sin of slavery and the menace of fascism -- is marred by the painful reality that U.S. troops are currently bogged down in a quagmire of George Bushs creation in Iraq.

The Iraq imbroglio is not a good fight. It is not even a necessary fight.

The United States should never have invaded and occupied Iraq. That country posed no threat to America or her allies. Indeed, Iraq was a secular island in a region of religious ferment and, as such, served as a frequently troubling but generally useful bulwark against the spread of anti-American fundamentalisms. Obviously, Americans who worry about human rights -- a group in which the proponents of war with Iraq never counted themselves -- wanted an end to the oppressive regime of Saddam Hussein. But, as in any country, the job of removing Iraq's dictator belonged to the Iraqi people, not to an invasion force sent at the whim of a pair of oil men who salivated at the prospect of turning a distant country's petrol riches into a boon for their long-time partners in the energy industry.

If George Bush and Dick Cheney cared one wit about the men and women in the U.S. armed services, they would not have dispatched them to Iraq.

Yet, now that roughly 150,000 Americans are stuck in the middle of the entirely predictable civil war that resulted from a poorly planned invasion and badly bungled occupation, Bush and Cheney have the audacity to claim the only way to "support the troops" is to keep them on the killing field that has taken close to 3,500 American lives and left tens of thousands of our finest young men and women permanently disabled.

The cynicism of the current administration, which is led by a president whose family pulled strings to keep him out of the Vietnam War and a vice president who dodged the draft five times during that conflict, is beyond contempt. But so, too, is the cynicism of many Democrats who, despite their disdain for the failed foreign policies of Bush and Cheney, continue to echo the empty rhetoric of the administration when it comes to the debate about how best to end the war.

There is only one way to "support the troops" in this conflict, and Edwards has summed it up well in his call for a respectful Memorial Day agitation to extract U.S. forces from Bush's war of whim. "The American people voted last fall to stand by our troops, end the war, and bring our soldiers home. The Congress [in early May] sent the president a bill that would fund the troops and bring them home," argues the most outspoken war critic among the leading contenders for the 2OO8 Democratic presidential nomination. "But President Bush has embarked on a stubborn path -- rejecting the will of the people and Congress. He is not only continuing the disastrous war in Iraq, but is escalating our presence there and vetoing [measures] that would support the troops. It has become clear that the only way to support our troops and end the war is by direct action -- by democracy."

Of course, Edwards has been attacked for calling on Americans to use this Memorial Day to rally, lobby and pray for an exit strategy from the Iraq nightmare.

"Some will say that this weekend is not the right time to ask Americans to stand together and tell the president and Congress to end this war. They may say it is not patriotic, or that it does not honor the fallen," explains the presidential candidate. "I strongly disagree. I believe that Memorial Day is exactly the right time to honor the memory of those who paid the ultimate price for our freedom, and to honor the troops serving us today."

Adds Edwards, "It has been said that dissent is the highest form of patriotism. Mark Twain once wrote that the government must not 'decide who is a patriot and who isn't.' President Theodore Roosevelt went even farther. He said that to say there should be no criticism of a president is not only 'unpatriotic and servile, but it is morally treasonable to the American public."

Edwards has hit on the essential theme for this Memorial Day. It is often said that U.S. troops are fighting for democracy. But fights for democracy can only be considered successful when American democracy is open and vibrant enough to allow for a realistic discussion of the nation's circumstance. Those "my-country-right-or-wrong" politicians and pundits who would shut down dissent on Memorial Day, or any other day, make a mockery of the president's rhetoric about fighting for democracy.

In contrast, by suggesting that this Memorial Day is the right time to challenge the Bush administration's false assertions and failed policies, Edwards is marking himself as precisely the sort of bold leader that America will need in the post-Bush era.

Recalling the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr's Vietnam War-era counsel that Americans must move beyond "the prophesying of smooth patriotism" toward "a firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history," Edwards argues, as should we all, that: "This Memorial Day weekend, we should all take up Dr. King's call to action. It is time to take back patriotism from a president who has misused it to justify policies that have exacted such terrible costs -- from Guantanamo Bay to domestic spying to the war in Iraq itself. Let us reclaim patriotism for all of us who love our country, support our troops, and are ready to end the war -- and to bring these brave servicemen and women home to the heroes' welcome they deserve."


John Nichols' new 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.'"

The Dems' Self-Defeat on the Iraq War Vote

The congressional Democratic leaders' big problem: they can't count.

Given the choice of funding the unpopular Iraq war or being accused by George W. Bush of succumbing to a defeatism that endangers America's security, a majority of senators and representatives clearly prefers Option One. This group is composed mostly of Republicans. But a slice of Democrats are within its ranks. Such a reality couldn't be hurdled by Democratic leaders in the House and Senate during the just-ended face-off over an Iraq war funding bill. The Democrats tried at first to have it both ways and ended up with nothing--except a flood of resentment from their core supporters. Amid the debris, there's a lesson for them.

Led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the Democrats thought they could cleverly force Bush to end (or, at least, begin ending) the war. They oppose the war, but their plan was to vote for Iraq war funds and attach a variety of conditions, including benchmarks and a withdrawal schedule, to the funding measure. Such a move would have both continued the war and established a glide path for its end (that is, the end of active US combat participation in the conflict). A few Democrats who wanted to just say no to the war bolted, but Pelosi managed to craft a Rube Goldberg measure that won the barest party-line majority possible. (There was doubt whether the legislation would do much in concrete terms, for it contained escape clauses Bush could exploit.) In the Senate, Reid, with his fellow Democrats aboard, passed a less complicated bill that called for beginning a withdrawal in several months. Next, the president vetoed the blended bill that subsequently emerged.

That was no surprise. For the Democrats, the question was, what to do next? Antiwar advocates, such as the members of MoveOn, demanded the Dems hang tough. Former Senator John Edwards, a presidential candidate, called for Pelosi and Reid to keep passing the same bill in defiance of Bush's veto, as Edwards sought to pressure two rivals, Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The media portrayed the episode as a showdown between congressional Democrats and Bush. The key issue: who would blink first?

The answer came on Thursday night when the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate essentially turned tail and allowed votes on a $120 billion war funding measure containing weak benchmarks and little in the way of consequences should the Iraqi government fall short. GOPers provided most of the support for the legislation, but in the House 86 Democrats voted for it (including such leaders as Representatives Steny Hoyer, Rahm Emanuel, James Clyburn and John Murtha). In the Senate, 37 of 50 Democrats went along. Toward the end of the vote in the Senate, Obama voted nay; then Hillary Clinton followed suit.

The war continues. No checks, no balances.

Grassroots and antiwar Democrats who expected their party's win last November to lead to the war's end are enraged. As they see it--and accurately so--a Democratic-controlled Congress has failed to halt or slow Bush's war in Iraq, even though public opinion polls show that a majority of Americans favor establishing a withdrawal timetable. And, worse, many Democrats have now voted to give the war, with the ongoing escalation, another chance. The Democratic Party leaders stand alienated from their base--while congressional Republicans, though out of step with popular sentiment, are in sync with their core supporters.

Was such an unhappy (for the Democrats) outcome inevitable? Probably. The Democrats do not have the votes to stop the war, even in their own caucus--unless they are audaciously willing to defy majority rule (say, by preventing war funding legislation from reaching the floor). Most House Democrats do favor withdrawing from Iraq. Days ago, 169 House Democrats (and two Republicans) voted for such a measure. And 28 Democratic senators voted for a similar bill. Yet a significant minority of Democrats are aligned with almost all the Republicans in opposition to a legislatively-mandated pullback. Some of these Democrats may believe in the war; many probably fear being blamed for the ugly consequences that could ensue in Iraq following a removal of US troops. In any event, the Democrats were mathematically destined to disappoint those hoping they would suffocate Bush's war in Iraq.

The denouement, though, did not have to be so dismal for the Democrats. If the Democrats had at the start not attempted to outfox an uncompromising commander in chief, they could have reaped the rewards of moral (or political) clarity. Had Pelosi offered a bill forcing a withdrawal of US forces within a year, she would have lost the vote on that measure. But she would have been in a position to declare, "Most of the Democratic Party want to end this war, but because some of our members (and practically all of the Republicans) disagree, we cannot pass legislation to achieve this...yet." A clear picture would have been painted: the war belongs to Bush and the Republicans.

After that, Pelosi could have permitted the Republicans to bring forward an appropriations bill for the war. The Democrats could have offered various benchmarks, conditions, timetables, and deadlines via amendments. Most would have failed, a few (but no withdrawal deadlines) might have passed. Again, there would be clarity. The narrative would have been that the Democrats first tried to stop the war and then attempted to place limits on the war. If they failed, they failed. Sure, there still would have been anger from the base at those Democrats who bucked the Democratic gameplan. But the party's grassroots and netroots--and the rest of the public--would have seen that the Democratic leadership had endeavored to change course in Iraq.

The House Democratic leaders can now contend that they did try to force a change on Bush and point to the 140 Dems who voted against the war funding bill. But this claim cannot overcome the appearance of Democratic strategizing gone awry. The Democrats created too much confusing context for their failure. Bush had a simple position: I want my war the way I want it, and if the Democrats don't give it to me, they'll be harming the troops and bear responsibility for whatever ill befalls America from the evildoers. The Democrats presented a series of hard-to-follow and hard-to-explain gyrations. They were rolled.

At the end of the day, Bush and the GOP--who are on the wrong side of public opinion on the war--came out political winners. And the Democrats looked divided, confused, and weak. Which brings me back to the first point. In politics, you can sometimes turn a liability (not enough votes) into an asset, if you play for a clean loss that sends the right message. That's not what happened on this round.

The match is not over. The war slogs on, and Congress will face another vote on war funds in the fall. Lawmakers of both parties are already saying that September will be the make-or-break month, meaning that if there are no obvious signs of progress by summer's end, even Republicans may start to proclaim enough's enough. "This is not the end of the debate," Pelosi asserted before voting against the war funding measure. She's right about that.

Pelosi and Reid will get another shot at Bush's war soon. Democrats should wonder what their leaders learned from this defeat.


DON"T FORGET ABOUT HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR, the best-selling book by David Corn and Michael Isikoff. Click here for information on the book. The New York Times calls Hubris "the most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations" and "fascinating reading." The Washington Post says, "There have been many books about the Iraq war....This one, however, pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft." Tom Brokaw notes Hubris "is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For highlights from Hubris, click here.

EC for Soldiers Too

Did you know that women in the US armed forces are currently denied access to legal reproductive options?

About 350,000 women currently serve in the military, making up about 15 percent of all active-duty personnel. But federal law does little to protect their reproductive rights. Not only are servicewomen banned from accessing abortion care at all military medical facilities, many can't even obtain emergency contraception at their base pharmacy and thus have no effective access to Plan B contraceptives.

Timely access to emergency contraception is important for military women, especially since nearly 3,000 incidents of sexual assault were reported in the military last year-- an approximate 24 percent increase from 2005. Congress has an opportunity to improve health care for women in the military with a bill sponsored by lawmakers in both parties supporting the addition of Plan B to the list of medications that must be stocked at every military health-care facility.

A vote is expected soon and the count is going to be very close. This is an issue that popular opinion really could influence. And it makes eminent sense for Congress to make every effort to reduce unintended pregnancies in the armed forces. So click here to join NARAL Pro-Choice America's campaign to convince Congress to vote in favor of the Compassionate Care for Servicewoman Act.