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Praying for the Peace of Jerusalem

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:they that love thee shall prosper.Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces.For my brethren and companions' sakes, I will say now,peace be within thee.For the sake of the House of the Lord our God I will seek thy good.

Psalm 122

The world's great religions preach peace.

So it is ironic that at the root of so many of the conflicts in the Middle East has been an emotional, at times irrational, determination by the followers of different faiths to control the soil to which they trace the roots of their particular practices of religion.

Nowhere are those conflicts more bluntly in evidence than in Jerusalem, a compact city that is home to structures, traditions and living faith communities that are the touchstones of Christianity, Islam and Judaism. With the approach of the Christmastide that is so linked to the city and the region surrounding it, surely it is appropriate to ponder what it might mean to sincerely seek after the peace of Jerusalem.

We neglect the question at our peril. The struggle among these religions has poured too much blood on the ancient stones of the streets of Jerusalem. And that bloodshed influences the politics not just of Israel and Palestine but of the Middle East and the world. Yet for the most part, contemporary political leaders who profess to be the children of Abraham cannot seem to recognize that they are called, first, to seek peace--not property, ideological reassurance or tactical advantage.

It is troubling that President Bush, who claims a deep Christian faith, is so very unwilling to listen to the former President whose devotion to the teachings of the Nazarene has earned him the Nobel Peace Prize and other honors awarded those who devote their lives to promoting reconciliation and redemption.

Jimmy Carter's new book, Palestine Peace Not Apartheid (Simon & Schuster), is an urgent plea for the United States to play a more useful role in promoting peace in the region. To do so, Carter argues, the United States must stop "squandering international prestige and goodwill and intensifying global anti-American terrorism by unofficially condoning or abetting the Israeli confiscation and colonization of Palestinian territories."

Carter's book has been wrongly characterized, mostly by those who have not read it, as an attack on Israel. In fact, it is a call for the United States to respect the fact that most Israelis and most Palestinians want peace. "As I said in a 1979 speech to the Israeli Knesset, ‘The people support a settlement. Political leaders are the obstacles to peace,'" Carter explains. "Over the years, public opinion surveys have consistently shown that a majority of Israelis favor withdrawing from Palestinian territory in exchange for peace ("swapping land for peace"), and recent polls show that 80 percent of Palestinians still want a two-state peace agreement with Israel."

Carter, who successfully negotiated a lasting peace agreement between Israel and Egypt and who has remained highly engaged with Middle East affairs over the past twenty-five years, is not naïve. He knows that a roadmap to peace requires travel through difficult territory. He has taken his hits for being honest about what must be done. But when he prays for the peace of Jerusalem, he means it.

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism has been hailed by authors and historians Gore Vidal, Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn for its meticulous research into the intentions of the founders and embraced by activists for its groundbreaking arguments on behalf of presidential accountability. After reviewing recent books on impeachment, Rolling Stone political writer Tim Dickinson, writes in the latest issue of Mother Jones, "John Nichols' nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic, The Genius of Impeachment, stands apart. It concerns itself far less with the particulars of the legal case against Bush and Cheney, and instead combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use of the "heroic medicine" that is impeachment with a call for Democratic leaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by the founders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com

Holy Homophobia

For religion-watchers, the decision by several northern Virginia parishes to split with the Episcopal Church and join Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola's crusade against Anglican liberalism came as no surprise. Akinola, the most powerful figure in the Anglican Communion, directly leads at least 17 million Christians and has been fomenting this schism since at least the consecration of openly-gay Bishop Gene Robinson in 2003. It became inevitable, however, once Katharine Jefferts Schori was elected Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church earlier this year. Schori, a supporter of Robinson and same-sex unions, is the first woman to lead a division of the Anglican Church.

For the most part, the mainstream press has done a decent job of reporting the nuts and bolts of the split. The Washington Post noted Akinola's support for legislation in Nigeria that would make it a crime for gays and lesbians to dine together in restaurants and identified him as "an advocate for jailing gays." In a subsequent op-ed, Harold Meyerson dubbed the breakaway faction "Episcopalians Against Equality," and linked them to other orthodox fundamentalists of Catholic and Jewish persuasions who've made anti-gay politics a focal point of their scriptural literalism.

Akinola's supporters quickly denied these allegations. In a post on the website of Truro Church (Fairfax, Virginia), Marytn Minns, a leader of the schism and a friend of Akinola's since their days at the Virginia Theological Seminary in the early '80s, said "That is not true. Archbishop Akinola believes that all people -- whatever their manner of life or sexual orientation -- are made in the image of God and deserve to be treated with respect." Subsequently, the Post and other outlets repeated Minns' claim, cryptically writing, "His advocates say he is trying to navigate an explosive cultural situation in Nigeria and appease Muslim leaders."

While it's certainly true that parts of northern Nigeria submit to Sharia law, under which homosexual sex is punishable by death by stoning, holding Muslim leaders solely responsible for the bill doesn't quite wash with an examination of Akinola's published declarations. The legislation under question is known as the "Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act." Under the guise of banning gay marriage, the bill would prohibit almost any association of gays and lesbians, restrict their freedom of speech and movement. Section 7 prohibits any "publicity, procession and public show of same sex amorous relationships through the electronic or print media" (for example, a screening of Brokeback Mountain). It would also imprison for five years anyone "involved in the registration of gay clubs, societies and organizations, sustenance, procession or meetings, publicity and public showing of same sex amorous relationships directly or indirectly in public and in private" (for example, any lesbians or gays meeting in a restaurant or even in their own homes).

This bill was introduced by Nigeria's Minister of Justice, Bayo Ojo, on January 19, 2006. In a "message to the nation" issued in February, Akinola endorsed the legislation saying, "The Church commends the law-makers for their prompt reaction to outlaw same-sex relationships in Nigeria and calls for the bill to be passed since the idea expressed in the bill is the moral position of Nigerians regarding human sexuality." In another declaration made in September, Akinola said, "The Church affirms our commitment to the total rejection of the evil of homosexuality which is a perversion of human dignity and encourages the National Assembly to ratify the Bill prohibiting the legality of homosexuality since it is incongruent with the teachings of the Bible, Quran and the basic African traditional values."

Given these statements, the attempts by Akinola's supporters to distance themselves (and him) from his previous support of this draconian legislation ring false. Is this crusade what the parishioners of Truro Church and Falls Church in Virginia, who according to World magazine include "leaders of government agencies, members of Congress, Washington journalists, and think-tank presidents," meant to endorse by siding with Akinola?

In the next few days, I'll report more on the Anglican schism, including posts on their right-wing US backers (Scaife, Olin, Coors), their interpretation of scripture and their narrative of reverse imperialism (Africa to the US), so stay tuned.

Brownback Molehill

Once again, being on the losing side of history is driving social conservatives mad. Senator Sam Brownback, currently the only presidential hopeful beloved by the far right wingnut community, said yesterdaythat he wants a Senate panel to question judicial nominee Janet Neff, a Michigan who has already been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, about her role in a 2002 lesbian commitment ceremony. One of the brides was a neighbor and longtime close friend of Neff's; most Americans would have attended and participated under those circumstances, just as she did, regardless of their opinions about the constitutionality of same-sex marriage. But not Sam Brownback, who felt that having a lesbian friend, especially one living next door, should disqualify Neff from the federal bench, and put a block on her nomination. When Senate colleagues objected, Brownback then tried to exact a promise from Neff that she would recuse herself from cases involving same-sex marriage, a condition so barkingly absurd that constitutional scholars nationwide openly jeered at it, and once again Brownback's colleagues had to rein him in.

Increasing numbers of Americans have gay friends, and the right-wingers are panicked about this. Research shows they're right to be -- having a gay friend, even more than a family member, is closely associated with support for gay rights. And of course, as gay and lesbian Americans live more openly , more straight people are aware of having gay friends. And a studyof recent election data conducted by political scientists Kenneth Sherrill and Patrick Egan found some further bad news for the haters: young people don't support gay marriage bans. (Egan and Sherrill also found that the initiatives don't help Republican candidates and are unlikely to fare well in states with fewer evangelical Christians.) So, while this election was a rough one for same-sex couples hoping to make it to the altar, the data suggest that in the long run, anti-gay politics may not have a bright future. Neither -- we hope -- does Sam Brownback.

Oil Law

Listening to the President's press conference just now, something caught my ear. In discussing the new "strategy forward," in Iraq, Bush mentioned that a key to unifying the country would be getting Iraq's new oil law passed. The idea is, I imagine, that once Iraq's new government has figured out how to equitably share oil revenues among various factions, everyone's going to get along just fine. Of course, along with bringing Iraqis together, the new law might just also provide a boon to American energy companies A win-win!

As Antonia Juhasz shows in a new cover story for In These Times (not yet on line), and argued in the LA Times earlier this month, access to oil continues to drive US policy in Iraq:

The Bush administration hired the consultancy firm BearingPoint more than a year ago to advise the Iraqi Oil Ministry on drafting and passing a new national oil law.

Plans for this new law were first made public at a news conference in late 2004 in Washington. Flanked by State Department officials, Iraqi Finance Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi (who is now vice president) explained how this law would open Iraq's oil industry to private foreign investment. This, in turn, would be "very promising to the American investors and to American enterprise, certainly to oil companies." The law would implement production-sharing agreements.

Much to the deep frustration of the U.S. government and American oil companies, that law has still not been passed.

In July, U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman announced in Baghdad that oil executives told him that their companies would not enter Iraq without passage of the new oil law. Petroleum Economist magazine later reported that U.S. oil companies considered passage of the new oil law more important than increased security when deciding whether to go into business in Iraq.

There are two elephants in the room when it comes to Iraq, and for some reason the establishment press can never quite bring itself to broach the subjects: permanent bases and access to oil. It's fairly clear that Bush is not going to withdraw from Iraq no matter what happens. Part of this is due to the fact that he has decided that as long as we stay in Iraq we can't lose the war, and he doesn't want to lose it. But there's also the not-so-minor fact that if we withdraw from Iraq we'll have a hard time establishing permanent bases and may not have any secure access to the country's oil.

So why is it the word oil never crossed the lips of any of the reporters at today's press conference?

Smart Shopping

In her latest Nation magazine column, Katha Pollitt offers tips on how to have yourself an altruistic holiday by reaching out to people in need. In that spirit, I've gathered a few socially-conscious holiday gift ideas for my fellow last-minute shoppers. (And in this same spirit, check out Talia Berman's new piece on WireTap profiling some young Americans who are breaking the holiday mold by making their own gifts, volunteering with friends or donating to the causes they care most about.)

Eco-Bags

The stylish yet sensible ChicoBag, a reusable shopping bag, is the perfect gift for your favorite Whole Foods shopper. It folds into an integrated pouch with a hook, can fit in or hook on to your pocket or purse, comes in five colors and helps lessen America's dependence on fossil fuels and foreign oil. (ChicoBags can save the average American 300 to 700 plastic shopping bags per year, which would reportedly save three to seven gallons of crude oil.)

While we're on bags, Brendon Smyth, writing in Grist's holiday gift round-up, lauds the Alchemy Goods bag "as a compulsive recycler's wet dream." Made from recycled bike-tire tubes and seat belts, it's soft, durable, and really sharp-looking. He also likes Reware's Juice Bag, "perfect for off-grid adventures: It's made from recycled soda bottles and can power up your electronics via the sun! The outside flap is a thin-film solar panel that can recharge mobile devices like a camera, phone, mp3 player, or GPS."

Political Docs

Since the 2004 election, Brave New Films has tackled Wal-Mart, Tom DeLay and war profiteers in Iraq. Now, this holiday season, Robert Greenwald's dynamic production company is offering you the opportunity to buy a gift for a friend, help raise funds for future productions, and get a gift for yourself. As with everything at Brave New Films, this is no traditional fundraiser.

Get one of a limited number of Brave New Films Boxed Sets. Each set contains the films Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, The Big Buy: Tom Delay's Stolen Congress, and Iraq For Sale: The War Profiteers, plus a bonus DVD containing extra footage, interviews, montages and more. Rolling Stone just gave the set three-and-one-half stars in its upcoming issue.

Your $100 donation gets the box set for a friend, relative, or co-worker, and they'll send it directly to them with a special introductory note from Robert Greenwald. As a thank you for your donation, they'll send you the bonus DVD. And you can always get discounted boxes of DVDs and 5 packs by clicking here.

Conscious Consumer Marketplace

For a range of socially responsible gift ideas, see the Center for a New American Dream's Conscious Consumer Marketplace. Things like sweatshop-free clothing, gift baskets with fair trade coffee, flowers and organic chocolate, hand lotion and organic cotton clothing and home-improvement items like energy-efficient kitchen appliances, shower-heads and faucets, non-toxic paints and sustainable wood products are easy to find. There are also gift certificates that can be used on a range of green travel packages and a section of presents for college students looking to "green their dorm room."

BuzzFlash Progressive Marketplace

You can also find a host of conscious presents at the BuzzFlash Progressive Marketplace, where you can get great gifts and help a terrific web site at the same time. Proceeds from this marketplace are critical to BuzzFlash's continued survival. And with more than twenty categories of gift options--from apparel to foreign films to postcards to food to books to Barack Obama buttons--you can probably scratch off numerous names on your lists in one fell swoop.

NationMart

I'd be remiss if I didn't urge you to visit The Nation's online shop. NationMart is your one-stop shop for everything Nation. Be subtle by sporting the Nation logo on t-shirts, caps, mugs and totes. Or be brash by wearing our t-shirt featuring our famous "Worry" cover image (recently selected by the American Society of Magazine Editors as one of the top 40 magazine covers of the past 40 years). Nation gear makes for great gift-giving all year round. And don't forget radically discounted books by Nation writers and editors.

Happy holidays!

Let the Sunshine In

Last week, a New York Times editorial was spot-on in calling for "a heavy dose of Internet transparency" to shed light on the relationships between our legislators and the special interests. The Times noted that "the technology is already there, along with the public's appetite for more disclosure about the byways of power in Congress." In suggesting "prompt, searchable postings of basic data--from lobbyists' itineraries and expenses to incumbents' donor ties and legislative labors," the Times is recognizing the value of the Internet as a technology that enables far greater sharing of information and shifts power into the hands of ordinary people.

It is far past time for Congress to enter the twenty-first century. Believe it or not, the Senate still files its campaign finance reports on paper (even though every Senator's campaign undoubtedly uses computers--well, we're not sure about Ted "the Internet is made of tubes" Stevens of Alaska). There's no technical reason why lobbyist reports couldn't be filed weekly, and online for immediate access.

There's no technical reason why committee hearings aren't all streaming on the web. Nor is there any technical reason that Members' personal financial disclosure reports aren't immediately posted on the web and updated whenever a Congressmen buys or sells property or stocks. If the SEC can require advance disclosure by directors of public companies before they buy or sell their company's stock, surely we should expect similar disclosure by the people who are buying and selling legislation.

One new organization taking the lead in pushing these ideas that the Times mentioned is The Sunlight Foundation--a nonpartisan watchdog organization devoted to using the Internet and information technology to increase transparency and accountability in Congress. The group is urging elected officials to sign onto its "," which calls for posting daily work schedules on the Internet, including meetings with lobbyists and all fundraising events. Rep.-elect Kirsten Gillibrand has agreed to it and Sen.-elect Jon Tester reportedly will as well.

Finally, the Times editorial cited the need for an "independent agency to prod Congress to fully investigate corruption allegations." Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi has signaled an openness to such an agency. She announced a bipartisan task force to look into the matter and report back by late March. Of course, creating a task force to look into creating an agency is potentially an inside-the-Beltway prescription for doing nothing. Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, told the Washington Post that the task force "worries me enormously" and that "they ought to bite the bullet" and create an independent Office of Public Integrity immediately.

If the Democrats want to make good on their promise to cleanup Congress, they will do everything they can to let the sunshine in.

If Cheney's Talking, He Should Talk to Congress

Vice President Dick Cheney should get used to testifying under oath.

It is expeacted that he will start talking soon, as part of a self-serving effort to defend a former aide. But once the vice president's done giving that testimony, how hard would it be for him to head over to Capitol Hill and respond to all the questions that members of Congress have been preparing to ask?

It was revealed Tuesday that Cheney will be called to testify on behalf of his former chief of staff, I. Scooter Libby.

Libby stands accused of perjury and obstruction of justice in an upcoming trial involving issues that arose from alleged efforts by the Vice President's office to punish former Ambassador Joe Wilson and his wife, former CIA operative Valarie Plame, for revealing that the Bush-Cheney administration had manipulated intelligence to make the "case" for invading and occupying Iraq.

Cheney, who resisted testifying before the 9/11 Commission until the bitter end, is reportedly willing to take the stand in Libby's defense.

William Jeffress, one of Libby's attorneys, says of the vice president: "We don't expect him to resist."

Lea Anne McBride, a spokeswoman for the vice president, seemed to confirm that sentiment when she told reporters that, "We've cooperated fully in this matter and will continue to do so in fairness to the parties involved."

Since schedules and notes -- some in the vice president's own handwriting -- confirm that Cheney was involved in conversations about using his office to discredit Wilson, his willingness to testify in the Libby case becomes particularly significant.

Of course, the vice president will make it his purpose to protect his former chief of staff, the loyal retainer who has been described as "Cheney's Cheney." But his openness to testifying under oath about this matter would seem to open the door for him to testify before Congress regarding the matter.

Gerald Ford, while serving as president, testified before a Congressional committee about his 1974 pardon of his scandal-plagued predecessor, Richard Nixon. So there is a clear precedent. And members of the House have already requested that Cheney come clean.

A little more than a year ago, three key members of the House -- Michigan Democrat John Conyers, the incoming chair of the Judiciary Committee; California Democrat Henry Waxman, the incoming chair of the Government Reform Committee; and New York Democrat Maurice Hinchey, one of the most outspoken critics of the administration's misuse of intelligence during the period before the Iraq War began -- sent a letter to the Vice President's office in which they asked the Cheney to "make yourself available to appear before Congress to explain the details and reasons for your office's involvement -- and your personal involvement -- in the disclosure of Valerie Wilson's identity as a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operative."

At the time the letter was sent, Hinchey said, "We are going to do everything we can to force this administration and this Congress to face up to the truth and to face up to their responsibility under the Constitution."

The congressman explained that, "The people who wrote the Constitution that set this government up knew what they were doing. They knew what would happen if you let a regime go its own way without oversight. That's why they set up the system of checks and balances. This Congress has shunned its responsibility, tossed its obligations under the Constitution aside – allowing the administration to do whatever it chooses, even to the point of looking aside when the administration lies to Congress and violates federal laws. That's got to stop. We cannot have a monolithic government. We have to restore some balance, where the legislative branch is a part of this process. And we think that one way to do that is by asking the vice president, in light of the questions that have arisen with regards to his actions, to come to Congress and answer the questions that are on the minds of the American people and their representatives."

Cheney showed little regard for Congress when Republicans were in charge of the House and Senate. And no one expects him to display any more respect for the system of checks and balances now that Democrats are in control.

But if the vice president is willing to testify in Libby's trial, then surely Congress has not just the right but the Constitutional duty to suggest that Cheney must also take questions from the Congress.

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism has been hailed by authors and historians Gore Vidal, Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn for its meticulous research into the intentions of the founders and embraced by activists for its groundbreaking arguments on behalf of presidential accountability. After reviewing recent books on impeachment, Rolling Stone political writer Tim Dickinson, writes in the latest issue of Mother Jones, "John Nichols' nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic, The Genius of Impeachment, stands apart. It concerns itself far less with the particulars of the legal case against Bush and Cheney, and instead combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use of the "heroic medicine" that is impeachment with a call for Democratic leaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by the founders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com

New Leadership on Ethics?

For most of the last Congress the House Ethics Committee was dormant or dysfunctional, for reasons I described in the article Ethics Go-Round.

Even when Howard Berman replaced Alan Mollohan as the ranking Democrat last April, the Committee still didn't do much. Its recent report on the Foley scandal, which laughably found that no lawmaker violated House rules, proved just how inconsequential the Committee has become.

Today Nancy Pelosi announced that Stephanie Tubbs Jones, a former prosecutor and well-respected progressive from Cleveland, will head the Ethics Committee in the 110th Congress. Maybe she can breathe some life into this slumbering institution. "I hope to be able to restore the public's confidence in the ethics committee and in Congress," Tubbs Jones told the LA Times.

Others are skeptical that new leadership at the top will be enough. "They didn't do their job last year, and I don't think they'll do their job next year," said Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington. "The problem is inherent with the committee itself and not with the chairman."

If Congress won't enforce its own rules, then someone else should. What's needed is an independent oversight body with subpoena power, known as the Office of Public Integrity, that can put teeth into the ethics process.

Pelosi, in consultation with John Boehner, has appointed a bipartisan task force to study the issue and report back with recommendations by March. Why wait until then? When the House and Senate introduce their ethics and lobbying reform package in early January, the Office of Public Integrity should be a front and center priority.

Good Evening, Vietnam

Although Vietnam flooded instantly back into American consciousness as the invasion of Iraq was launched in March 2003--along with its ancient vocabulary from "hearts and minds" to "quagmire" (or the deeply referential "Q-word")--for the Bush administration the rhetorical reference point was World War II and its aftermath. From Churchillian phraseology to that famed "axis of evil", modeled on the Axis powers of that global war, to endless invocations of the successful occupations of Germany and Japan, World War II was its analogous war of choice.

Yet from the beginning, no American critic had the Vietnam War era more firmly lodged in the brain than the top officials of the Bush administration. It was as if their invasion was always aimed, as in a suicide mission, directly at America's well-guarded Green Zone of Vietnam memories. After all, much war planning was based on what they considered the "lessons" of defeat in Vietnam.

From the dead-of-night way they brought the dead and wounded back from Iraq to the Pentagon's decision to embed the dreaded media, long blamed for defeat in Vietnam, in military units, Iraq was to be the anti-Vietnam battlefield. If we had, as the right believed, never lost an actual battle in Vietnam, but lost every one on the home front, then the major campaigns of the Iraq War would first be launched and managed on that home front (and only secondarily in Iraq).

But even as the White House and Pentagon were attempting to erase all Vietnam-like thoughts from the reality they hoped to mold both in the Middle East and in the US, even as they were avoiding the "Q-word" or the infamous phrase "light at the end of the tunnel" (for which, in the years to come, they would substitute an endless string of Iraqi "milestones," "landmarks," "tipping points," and "corners" turned), they were themselves hopelessly haunted by Vietnam.

That events in Iraq bore remarkably little relation to those in Vietnam over three decades earlier--beyond the obvious unlearned lesson that smaller powers in our time will not let bigger ones occupy them--seemed to make no difference. Forget the fact that there was no other superpower backing the Iraqi resistance or that the insurgency was a minority Sunni one in a majority Shiite country; forget that Vietnam had next to nothing of resource value other than rice to offer, while Iraq lies at the heart of the oil heartlands of the planet. Just focus for a moment on the recent thoroughly depressing jigsaw puzzle of a map of Baghdad produced by the US military "to reflect… ethno-sectarian fault lines" and leaked to the Times of London. Its various complex patterns of Sunni and Shiite stripes and solids, of flashpoints and "Christian communities," representing the complex swirl of civil war, insurgency, and ethnic cleansing bear no relation to anything imaginable in the Vietnam era.

Vietnam was, after all, a nation that only wanted to exist and whose "insurgency" was led by a single revolutionary/nationalist party headquartered in a separate half-nation. Iraq--an insurgency inside a foreign occupation inside a civil war, all infiltrated by untold levels of corruption, criminality, and religious strife and further confused by a minority Kurdish drive for an independent state--seems to be a nation in desperate search of failed statehood (and the US in Iraq, as Nir Rosen has pointed out, is now but a larger version of all the militias fighting for turf). We are, in short, in new territory here.

And yet somehow, Vietnam only seems to draw closer to Washington's Iraq. Just before the US midterm elections we reached what even the President agreed was a "Tet moment" (though the chaos of those weeks in Iraq bore next to no relation to the South Vietnam-wide offensive launched on the Tet holiday in 1968). It seems that, like drunks at an open bar, the President and others in this administration--no, in the capital more generally--just can't help themselves when it comes to Vietnam.

Take one small example. Just before those midterm elections, George Bush admitted to a group of conservative journalists, as Byron York of the National Review reported, that he was frustrated by the pre-invasion decision not to do the sorts of "body counts" that in Vietnam, as the carnage continued without victory ever heaving into sight, came to seem ludicrous, horrific, and self-defeating. ("'We don't get to say,' said Bush, in what was evidently an outburst of irritation, ‘that--a thousand of the enemy killed, or whatever the number was. It's happening. You just don't know it.'")

The problem, the President admitted, was that, in administration war planning, "We have made a conscious effort not to be a body-count team." Without any other way to measure "success" in devolving Iraq, the President only wished he could reveal the count of kills the Pentagon had long been amassing behind the scenes. Now, as things go from bad to worse he has finally given in to that primal body-count urge. Last week at the Pentagon, for the first time in over three years of post-Mission Accomplished disaster, he offered up a body count, saying:

"Our commanders report that the enemy has also suffered. Offensive operations by Iraqi and coalition forces against terrorists and insurgents and death squad leaders have yielded positive results. In the months of October, November, and the first week of December, we have killed or captured nearly 5,900 of the enemy."

This wasn't just a presidential slip. Take two typical recent headlines--an AP report went: "2,000 killed in Afghanistan since Sept." ("Almost 2,100 militants have been killed in Afghanistan since Sept. 1 in operations involving coalition special forces soldiers, a U.S. Army spokesman said.") and a Pentagon news release for Iraq, "20 Terrorists Killed, Weapons Caches Destroyed" -- reveal that it is increasingly policy. It seems that we now have an official body-count team in Washington for both our failed wars.

And that's the least of the matter. As 2006 ends, Iraq has become Washington's Vietnam in every sense of the word. On the one hand, the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group report, representing the world of the elder George Bush, has opted for a policy which combines the Vietnamization program ("Iraqification") of the Nixon years (reduce American ground troops, bulk up American advisors to local forces, increase American air power, and at the very least create a "decent interval" between the withdrawal of American combat forces and the moment when defeat becomes evident). In the meantime, the President's upcoming revamped approach looks to be a combination of a John F. Kennedy-era massive advisor build-up and a classic Lyndon-Johnson years "surge" of troops. In the Vietnam era, another word was used for "surge"-- "escalation." And, as it happens, the newly proposed surge into Baghdad and al-Anbar Province of perhaps 20,000 extra American soldiers (along with a tripling of American advisors/trainers) is exactly the kind of "incremental" escalation that American military men, looking back on the Vietnam disaster, swore would never happen again

Just to ensure that this is indeed Vietnam we're now enmeshed in, both sides in the present recommendation debate have been consulting a key architect of the final losing years of the Vietnam era -- Henry Kissinger.

The dangers of succumbing to the Vietnam urge are remarkably quick to show themselves. Already last week Helen Thomas exposed an instant "credibility gap," sending White House spokesman Tony Snow scrambling to explain how the President could cite a two-month body-count figure but the administration couldn't offer a Pentagon count for four years of war. Meanwhile, the latest polls show a yawning, Vietnam-style "credibility gap" between what anyone in Washington wants to do and the urge of increasingly large majorities of Americans to withdraw all American troops on a fixed timeline from Iraq.

Even more to the Vietnam point is the evidence of collective establishment cowardice in present Iraq planning -- the willingness simply to put off the loss of a war (and of a dream of global domination) into someone else's future. In the Vietnam years, President Nixon (advised by Kissinger) could undoubtedly have gotten us out of Vietnam, but squandered his "capital" instead on his historic China opening, trying in the process -- shades of Iran today -- to get a neighboring regional power to do for his war what he was incapable of doing for himself.

This kind of ongoing madness -- part of which, these days, passes for "realism" just as Kissinger's particular brand of Vietnam-era madness passed for "realpolitik" -- should be material for The Daily Show or The Colbert Report. Unfortunately, it will also be the basis for the deaths of tens or even hundreds of thousands more Iraqis as well as hundreds or thousands more Americans in the years to come. And undoubtedly, when we're done, the Iraqis will be forgotten and -- as in the Vietnam era -- this will be called an "American tragedy," to be followed by an "Iraq Syndrome," and so on into the Möbius strip of history, farce, and catastrophe.